Leaders voice transportation concerns

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 19, 2003

The State Senate Transportation Policy and Budget Committee listened to statements by local leaders about the need for increased funding and changes in policies Tuesday at the Austin Public Library.

Mayor Bonnie Rietz addressed the committee first. She read a statement explaining that regional centers such as Austin are in great need of state aid because a small tax base does not provide adequate means to raise funds for repair and maintenance. She asked the committee to work towards bringing in more annual revenue.

She then addressed the committee about city budget problems due to the probable cuts in Local Government Aid (LGA). She said that Austin is dependent on LGA to maintain services, and large cuts into that fund will mean large cuts for parks and recreation, the works department and the library. She also said that as many as 11 positions could be eliminated.

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Glenn Baker, of McFarland Truck Lines, said he was concerned the state would raise fuel taxes. He said that high fuel costs are hurting trucking companies this year.

"Raising fuel taxes at this time could be a disaster to motor carriers in this state," he said.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, was asked if gas prices in Minnesota were steeper than other states. He said he didn't see a difference.

Baker also said that cuts to the Minnesota Department of Transportation would compromise the safety of truckers. Rest areas, he said, are of particular importance.

"We are concerned that we will see drivers continuing when they are already tired and parking illegally in crowded areas," he said.

Baker also asked for a change in tort law. The current liability law says that if a party is 15 percent at fault, they can be responsible for all of the damages if the other party at fault can't pay. He said that the McFarland Truck Lines' insurance agency had to pay a large settlement for an accident in which the other driver was at fault, but was not adequately insured. This, he said, drives up insurance rates. Baker said Minnesota should raise the 15 percent limit to 50 percent.

Bruce Henricks, director of human services for Mower County, asked the legislators to try to avoid serious cuts to the transit budget.

"Mower County is one of the most rapidly-aging areas in the state," Henricks said. "Transit has been very helpful in getting people to the doctor or getting them out the door to get groceries."

He said that the transit budget situation is always changing because of politics, so it is difficult to maintain funding.

Matt Merritt can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at :mailto:matt.merritt@austindailyherald.com