My guess is that state Rep. Tim Kelly played a little basketball in his day, and knows something about prolonged dribbling to delay action. That's the image that came to my mind Monday as I heard Kelly, the state House transportation chair, patter about the time not being quite right this year to enact Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed $9 billion, 10-year state highway and transit funding surge.
Kelly didn't blast Dayton's plan. He dribbled. He voiced uncertainty about Dayton's numbers. He fretted that the governor was introducing new complexity with a proposed gross receipts tax on wholesale motor fuels. He noted that achieving bipartisan deals requires much negotiation. He said that he and the new House GOP majority would need "time to do this responsibly" -- more time than will be available during the current legislative session, which must end May 18.
And when asked why he did not accept the work of a bipartisan (though Dayton-appointed) panel of experts that said in 2012 that Minnesota need $21 billion more over 20 years just to retain the transportation system's current capacity, Kelly shot back: If that assessment is credible, why didn't DFLers act on it in 2013-14, when they controlled both chambers of the Legislature?
That DFL decision a year ago -- made by an election-wary governor and House DFL leaders -- is one they may rue today. House DFLers lost their majority despite their transporation stall. Their defeats in Greater Minnesota came in part because voters in that part of the state felt neglected by state government. Those voters could cite as evidence the deteriorating condition of many outstate highways.
Timing is always tricky when Minnesota needs a tax increase. It's easy for politicians to say a tax increase is unwise when the economy slumps, unjustified when the economy is strong, and imprudent close to an election. The right time to say yes can be brief and fleeting.
But Kelly's response Monday to Dayton's transportation proposal may suggest a GOP judgment that this is not the time to say "no way" to higher taxes for transportation, either. Too many Minnesotans can see for themselves that this state has invested too little in roads and transit. Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle says that the cost consumers bear for road-related damage to their vehicles alone comes to $1.2 billion per year, or $396 per licensed vehicle.
Instead, Kelly said, "I look forward to crafting a long-term solution over the next two years....Why wouldn't we take more time?" Bounce, bounce, bounce.