Road to a crash? Big gap between GOP, Democrats on state transportation funding

Published 10:18 am Wednesday, March 22, 2017

By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — The debate over transportation funding — and the hard divide on solutions — is back at the Minnesota Capitol.

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On Tuesday, the Minnesota House released its plan to fund the state’s roads and bridges. Like the plan the Senate released earlier this week, the proposal redirects current spending to roads. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, as he has before, is proposing increasing the gas tax to pay for transportation needs.

“We have a plan to spend $6 billion over the next 10 years,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson, a Hanska Republican and chair of the House’s Transportation Finance Committee. “We will not be raising the gas tax or other taxes in this bill.”

The House plan would borrow at least $1.2 billion over the next four years, and redirect to roads and bridges $450 million in auto parts and repair taxes, car rental taxes, and lease taxes. It would also enact a new yearly $75 surcharge on electric vehicle owners.

In January, Dayton offered a plan to raise $600 million in gas taxes, $125 million in vehicle registration fees and about $400 million in metro-area sales tax increases to fund mass transit.

Capitol Republicans’ vision and Democrats’ vision for how to pay for what businesses, citizens and bipartisan lawmakers believe is a multibillion-dollar gap in what the state needs for roads and bridges and what it currently spends begins in the same place it did three years ago — with great differences. But lawmakers and the governor are hopeful it will not end in the same place — with a stalemate.

Republicans and Democrats are also gravely split on how and whether to fund transit, including trains, buses and bus rapid transit. Democrats tend to support such spending and Republicans tend to be deeply skeptical of the utility of funding transit and limit state spending on it.