Dayton, GOP squabble over $105M in road funding

Published 10:40 am Thursday, October 27, 2016



ST. PAUL — Minnesota officials’ years-long fight over transportation funding took another turn Wednesday when Gov. Mark Dayton blamed House Republicans for blocking more than $100 million in federal funding for road and bridge repairs. Dayton said the move threatens to delay two dozen projects.

It’s another consequence of the messy end to the 2016 legislative session that adjourned without a long-term transportation package or a tax relief bill because of Dayton’s vetoes. Another bill that failed would have authorized using $105 million in federal funds on 28 transportation construction projects slated to begin next spring, including road resurfacing statewide and bridge repairs in Virginia, Winona and Bloomington.

State departments need legislative approval to spend federal money, and when the Legislature isn’t in session, that authority falls to a small group of lawmakers. But Rep. Tim Kelly, a top House Republican, blocked the state’s request to use the $105 million in a letter earlier this month, arguing that the entire Legislature should have oversight for such a large sum.

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On Wednesday, the Democratic governor called it “a senseless interruption” and urged Kelly to reconsider. Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said lawmakers could authorize the money early in 2017 to keep the projects on track, but he said the impasse would likely delay the start of construction.

“Here we’ve got transportation projects that they (lawmakers) are just sitting on and preventing from going ahead because of their own failure to act responsibly during the legislative session,” Dayton said.



The clash is part of an ongoing struggle between Dayton’s administration, which has tried to move forward with its own project schedules based on studies of need, and lawmakers who believe they should take a more direct role in determining which roads and bridges are funded.

In his letter denying the federal funding, Kelly wrote that “these funds have always been a direct appropriation by the Legislature.”

“This would be unprecedented for the Legislature to give up this oversight authority, especially for this large of an expenditure,” Kelly wrote.

Asking lawmakers to unleash federal funds is routine when the Legislature isn’t in session. Although Kelly blocked the road funding, he and other lawmakers on the committee making such decisions allowed the state to spend more than $43 million in other federal dollars in other areas.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said the funds don’t need to be unleashed this year. He accused Dayton of trying to shift attention away from the state’s rising health care costs.