Minnesota voters OK setting money aside for roads, transit

| 11/9/2006

Minnesota voters this week directed their state government to stop diverting money intended for transportation to other budgets.

Nearly 60 percent of voters across the state approved a change to the state's constitution that requires all motor vehicle sales taxes to be dedicated solely for roads, bridges and transit. Currently, about half of that tax revenue - 46 percent - is rerouted to the state's general fund, the Elk River Star News reported.

The change is projected to generate about $300 million annually after a five-year phase-in period. It will offer the state's first dedicated source of funding for transit.

Transportation advocates said the proposal is a step in the right direction but more than $1 billion is needed each year to meet construction and maintenance needs.

Margaret Donahoe, legislative director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, told "Land Line Now" on XM Satellite Radio that "because the state has neglected transportation for many years and we have such a big backlog of projects $300 million is not a huge amount of money in terms of highway needs."

Donahoe said the state still would need to pursue other sources of revenue to pay for all the needed transportation work.

Opponents said the amendment was poorly worded because it doesn't guarantee how money will be distributed between roads and transit. That is of particular concern for rural communities who typically don't need money for transit.

"Do I think zero will go to roads? Probably not. Do I think it could be 40 percent roads and 60 percent transit? I do think that," Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, told KTTC-TV in Rochester, MN, in the days leading up to Election Day.

Others said dedicating all MVST for transportation will hurt schools and colleges, which rely heavily on general funds.

The Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will need to decide how to spend the money.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor