Minnesota Dems, GOP offer plans to pay for road, bridge work

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/15/2015

Republicans and Democrats at the Minnesota statehouse have wasted little time since the start of the regular session in offering their plans to address transportation funding needs.

Senate Democrats unveiled their plan this week to address an estimated $1 billion annual funding gap to cover transportation maintenance for the next 20 years. The chamber’s majority party says their plan would increase revenue for roads, bridges and transit by about $800 million annually.

Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, introduced the bill that would also authorize $1.5 billion in borrowing for other projects. Specifically, SF87 would add about $570 million through general obligation bonds to repair local roads and bridges. Another $800 million would be tapped for trunk highway bonds.

Dibble, the Senate Transportation Committee chairman, said new investment is needed now.

“Roads and bridges are deteriorating, more people are moving here, and their ability to get around is increasingly hampered,” Dibble said at a news conference unveiling his plan. “And as our economy continues to grow and improve, the ability for people to get to jobs, the ability of goods and services to get to market is just simply not keeping up with that need.”

House Republicans previously introduced their own plan that would raise nearly $800 million. The bill, HF4, would use $200 million in general funds, and $500 million in used trunk highway funds. Cost savings would also be pursued within the Minnesota Department of Transportation budget.

“Going forward, we need to increase the investment in roads and bridges, and we need to do it by using some common sense and by making transportation more of a legislative funding priority,” stated Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a democrat, said the Republican plan does not do enough to raise about $6 billion in transportation revenue the Minnesota Department of Transportation says it needs over the next decade.

Dayton is expected to release his own plan later this month. It is anticipated that the governor’s plan will be very similar to the Senate Democrats plan.

One main component of the Democratic plan would add a 6.5 percent wholesale tax on fuel, which would allow tax collections to increase with inflation. The state’s excise tax rate of 28.5 cents per gallon would remain unchanged.

The wholesale portion of the tax is estimated to raise more than $400 million for 2016. However, critics point out that the estimates are based on $3-per-gallon fuel costs.

Higher vehicle registration fees are also included in the Democratic plan. Another part of the plan would add a 1-cent sales tax across the Minneapolis-St. Paul seven-county metro area. The tax is estimated to raise $251 million in 2016.

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