Gov. Mark Dayton slammed a proposal by House Republicans that would pay for fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges through $200 million from the state’s projected budget surplus, calling it “pure fantasy.”
“That’s not a solution. That’s not a short-term solution, that’s not a long-term solution, and it demonstrates that they don’t understand the problem, and they certainly don’t have any serious interest in finding a real solution,” Dayton told reporters at a news conference Friday, one day after the House GOP laid out its legislative priorities. He added that the Republicans’ plan to devote $750 million to transportation over four years by cutting elsewhere in the state budget was straight out of “La-La Land.”
Dayton’s own transportation plan would upgrade the state’s roads, bridges and other transportation and transit needs by spending $6 billion over the next decade, funded through a wholesale fuels tax and an increase in license tab fees. Dayton said he will not even discuss the Republican proposal “until they decide to get real about it and offer a real approach.”
Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said in a statement Friday that he will work on persuading the governor.
“I’m disappointed in Governor Dayton’s tone today, but I’m going to keep working on him,” Daudt said in the statement. “I will win him over because I believe we can work together to solve the problems Minnesotans care about.”
The DFL governor’s proposal would be funded mainly through a 6.5 percent-per-gallon tax on gasoline at the wholesale level — one he has estimated could cost drivers an extra 12 cents per gallon at the pump. Dayton acknowledged Friday that the projection of $5.8 billion in revenue assumed a price of $3.25 per gallon. Gasoline prices have collapsed since then, with some stations selling below $2 a gallon. Dayton said it was too early to say whether he would propose a supplemental tax to make that up.
“Let’s get this one started,” he said.
Dayton noted that Republicans took control of the House after campaigning on transportation issues.
“I think they have to start to keep their promise,” he said. “It’s the first week of the session, I acknowledge that, but two months after the election they have to start acknowledging the problem and deal with it.”
Light-rail delays costly
Dayton’s transportation frustrations include the proposed Southwest Light Rail project and its most recent delay: A request for more engineering studies that have incurred more costs and delays and a potential loss of federal funding, which has already dwindled by 10 percent.
“If I’m in the position of a federal allocator and I’ve got a dozen other communities that are vying for this same money that are cohesive on their goals and are ready to go, it’s pretty obvious to me that these shenanigans are going to place Minnesota’s proposal back at the end,” Dayton said.
“It’s pure fantasy to think that 10 or 15 years ago you’re going to build a light rail line from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis and there won’t be any disruptions on people’s homes and properties and public lands and waters,” he said. “If that was the absolute deal-breaker, that there was going to be any kind of disruption, we’ve been fooling ourselves.”
Dayton said he sympathized with private homeowners whose properties would be disrupted by construction, but said “the public bodies that have been sitting around all this time certainly could see the writing on the wall, and brought a pencil and eraser five years ago and start to work on something better.”
Looking beyond transportation
In a question-and-answer session with reporters, Dayton said that for now, he would take into consideration Republicans’ proposed tax cuts for businesses, saying “nothing is off the table.”
He also acknowledged that the administration and Legislature will have to make tough decisions regarding the potential overhaul of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.
“It’s a very unpleasant problem, it’s a very unpopular problem, it’s a very expensive problem, and it has to compete with other things that a lot of us including me would much rather do,” he said.
Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, suggested the Legislature consider completing its 2016 business now so lawmakers wouldn’t have to return next year in the midst of Capitol renovations. Dayton said Hann brought up the idea over lunch in December.
“My suggestion was: Don’t float that in the beginning of session in January,” Dayton said. “Wait until five months of port-a-potty lines.”