Sparks: ‘Our roads and bridges require funding’

Published 7:22 am Saturday, April 22, 2017

By Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL, District 27 

With about a month left to go before the 2017 Legislative Session wraps up , we have a lot of work to do. But I’m proud to announce I have been selected to sit on the Transportation Conference Committee — a joint and bipartisan group of House and Senate members who are tasked with hashing out a compromise bill both bodies of the legislature can approve. That task is going to be a big one, with not only big differences between the House and Senate bills, but also large differences with what Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed.

As the only DFL senator selected to sit on the committee, I’m proud to be representing rural Minnesota. Our needs differ from the metro. I’ve been hearing a lot from the community about why road and bridge funding is so important. From county commissioners to local cities including Austin and Albert Lea, as well as many individuals, there are many people concerned about how we’re going to pay to fix our local roads, make repairs and maintenance and in some cases replace aging bridges. These fixes are expensive, and the local tax base frequently can’t afford to carry the full cost of repairs.

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The Senate transportation bill invests $400 million into largely road and bridge repair. While the money invested is not nearly enough, it is an acknowledgment of the great need for additional funding for our hundreds of thousands of miles of highway across the state. During my conference committee work I will continue advocating for greater long-term investment in transportation.

The House has passed a transportation bill they say invests $2.2 billion into roads and bridges over the next two years, but cuts funding to transit in the metro, potentially reducing bus service by nearly 40 percent. The money used to fund such a large bill is shifted from the general fund and borrowed through bonding. By using questionable methods to fund their bill, and shifting major payments into the future, House Republicans argue against the need for a gas tax. House Democrats on the other hand, argue that kind of investment takes money away from other priories like education and could hurt the state’s bottom line in future years.

The governor likewise has his own set of priorities — neither of which are represented in the Senate or House bills. The governor reminds Minnesotans that the state is facing an $18 billion transportation funding gap over the next 20 years. To help close that gap he’s proposing new investments in the form of a gas tax. The governor’s budget proposal would repair or replace 1,700 miles of roads and 235 bridges as well as an expansion of our current transit systems.

I am very aware of the vast differences between the House, Senate and governor’s visions for transportation funding. But we all have a shared belief: We all know our roads and bridges require funding. We’ve all heard the statistic about the funding gap. Our differences lie in how we think road and bridge repair should be funded.

I am looking forward to my position on the conference committee to find solutions everyone can agree to. Compromise means neither party gets exactly what they want. What I am hopeful for is increased investment for our roads and bridge and an agreement the governor can sign. I am also hopeful the conference committees work with the governor’s staff to find solutions for all Minnesotans.