Fuel tax increase struck down by Minnesota governor

| 5/16/2007

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty wasted little time Tuesday, May 15, to veto a nickel-per- increase in the state’s fuel tax.

Less than 24 hours after the House and Senate approved a transportation bill, Pawlenty kept his promise to strike down the effort. He said adding to the state’s 20-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel and gas would be “untimely and misguided.”

The Republican governor said he vetoed the bill without delay because he wants the Democratic-Farmer-Labor-led statehouse to pass his transportation bill. Pawlenty’s proposal relies on a $1.7 billion borrowing package during the next decade.

Instead, DFL lawmakers said they will pursue an override of the governor’s veto on their bill.

The Senate voted 47-17 Monday, May 14, to approve the transportation funding bill shortly after House lawmakers passed it 90-43. The tallies were mostly along party lines.

The bill – HF946 – received the minimum number of House votes needed to override a veto. Senators cleared the bill with two votes to spare.

“I think we’re going to be OK on an override. There are people twisting arms,” Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, told The Associated Press early in the week.

Opponents aren’t convinced. They say it will be extremely difficult for advocates to prevent one of the seven House Republicans who voted in favor of the bill to override a veto.

In an effort to bring back to his side those GOP lawmakers who voted for the tax increase, Pawlenty summoned them into his office Tuesday. By the end of the meeting, at least one lawmaker said he planned to uphold the veto, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis reported.

The nickel boost to the state’s fuel tax is the centerpiece of a bill that would raise $534 million for transportation work during the next two years. Over the course of the next decade, the plan would generate $7 billion for roads, bridges and transit.

The bill also would authorize a 2.5-cent-per-gallon surcharge to be extracted from consumers to pay off $1.5 billion in bonds during the next decade.

Revenue also would be generated by allowing Twin Cities-area counties to impose a half-cent sales tax for local projects. Rural counties would need voter approval to impose their own taxes.

The Legislature has until Monday, May 21, to attempt an override of the transportation bill, authorize bonding sought by the governor, or wrap up their work without shoring up funding for roads, bridges and transit.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor