A legislative panel in Minnesota has authorized the state Department of Transportation to use an extra $60 million to rebuild the Interstate 35 bridge that collapsed Aug. 1. It is one-third of what the agency requested.
The Transportation Contingent Appropriation Group gave MnDOT the extra spending authority to keep its construction program on schedule until the Legislature reconvenes in February 2008. Gov. Tim Pawlenty had asked for $195 million to avoid delays on projects other than the Minneapolis bridge reconstruction.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said the panel held off on awarding the full amount of funding until all lawmakers have a chance to enter into the debate this winter at the capitol, the Pioneer Press reported.
MnDOT officials weren’t pleased with the reduced funding amount. They predicted that without the additional money the department would run out of construction money in January. A $60 million shortfall is expected by the end of February.
To keep from running up a pricey deficit, MnDOT officials said some scheduled transportation projects could be eliminated.
The extra money is needed because $250 million in promised federal funding has yet to be delivered to the state. Instead, the federal government has appropriated $55 million at this point while the rest is tied up in budget negotiations, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
The debate on transportation funding is leading up to a tug of war between the Democratic-Farmer-Labor-led Legislature and Gov. Pawlenty, a Republican.
Pawlenty vetoed legislation in 2005 and this spring to increase the state’s 20-cent-per-gallon fuel tax rate. Following the Aug. 1 bridge collapse, the governor said he might reverse his stance on a tax increase, but he wasn’t able to agree with lawmakers on a plan.
To view other legislative activities of interest for Minnesota in 2007, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor