Minnesota governor reveals road plan

| 1/7/2005

Instead of hiking Minnesota’s fuel taxes to pay for the state’s transportation needs, Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would dedicate all motor-vehicle sales taxes paid in the state to road construction and mass transit projects.

The amendment is one of two funding proposals in a 10-year, $7.15 billion transportation package that Pawlenty unveiled recently. He also will ask the Legislature to authorize $4.5 billion in bonds to pay for highway work between 2007 and 2017.

The sales-tax funding, which Pawlenty wants on the November 2006 ballot, would shift $2.6 billion over that decade to roads and transit from the state’s general fund – where the money would otherwise go to education, health care and other state spending needs.

Pawlenty, a Republican, said the plan builds off the five-year, $900 million transportation package approved in 2003, which also relied on bonds to pay for roadwork.

Democratic lawmakers criticized the governor’s reliance on borrowing to pay for road projects rather than looking for ways to raise more revenue. Pawlenty steadfastly opposes raising any taxes.

Borrowing allows major projects to get done sooner, Pawlenty told local media.

And if voters approve the amendment, the money would be gradually shifted to transportation projects over five years, giving lawmakers time to adjust the budget and lessen the hit to the general fund, the governor’s spokesman, Brian McClung, told the Pioneer Press. The motor-vehicle sales tax now accounts for about 2 percent of the state’s general fund.

State Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said Democrats are drafting their own plan that would raise more than $1 billion per year from a number of sources, including a higher fuel tax. The Association of Minnesota Counties, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Transportation Alliance all have offered funding plans that are based in part on a higher fuel tax.

Pawlenty said advocates of hiking the fuel tax should take their plans to voters.