Fuel tax increase sought in Minnesota

| 1/4/2007

The Minnesota Legislature opened its new session Wednesday, Jan. 3, with some lawmakers planning to pursue a fuel tax increase to pay for transportation work. Gov. Tim Pawlenty opposes the plan.

Leaders in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party who control the House and Senate plan to open this year's transportation funding talks by considering a boost in the state's fuel tax, the West Central Tribune reported.

Two years ago, lawmakers approved a 10-cent-per-gallon tax increase on diesel and gas. However, Pawlenty vetoed the effort then and said he would do the same this year.

"I'm not proposing and won't be proposing tax increases of any sort," Pawlenty told the Tribune.

The Senate and House transportation committee chairmen said raising the fuel tax would help get the state a little closer to the estimated $2 billion in annual funding needed for transportation.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, the Senate's transportation leader, is working on a bill that would increase the state's 20-cent-per-gallon tax by 10 cents, the Winona Daily News reported. The tax rate has remained unchanged for nearly 20 years.

Not all lawmakers in the majority party are on board with the idea to increase taxes.

Assistant House Majority Leader Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, would rather use part of the state's $1 billion surplus for transportation.

Pawlenty soon will release his 2007 transportation funding plan. It is expected to include a pilot project to "start replacing the (fuel) tax" with alternative funding sources, the Tribune reported.

In addition to the fuel tax debate, lawmakers are expected to discuss whether the state's new highways should be built to withstand heavier vehicles.

Roads in the state are built to accommodate nine tons of weight per vehicle axle. Some lawmakers are calling for a 10-ton standard.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor