In the Spotlight

News & Features

Coalition announces road plan that relies on gas-tax hike
By Brian Bakst
Associated Press
February 7, 2002

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, outlines a bipartisan transportation plan during a news conference at the Capitol on Thursday Feb. 7, 2002.
(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

ST. PAUL (AP) - An uncommon alliance of business, labor and contractor groups backed a 3.5-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax Thursday to spur more road construction.

The gas-tax hike is part of a package to raise $2.27 billion over the next five years for transportation projects. Republican Rep. Tom Workman and DFL Sen. Dean Johnson, who head transportation committees, are the sponsors.

Proceeds from the increase - which wouldn't kick in until 2004 - would be used to retire debt on state bonds. The Minnesota Transportation Coalition hopes the state will borrow $250 million a year for five years.

Gov. Jesse Ventura has proposed a 5 cents-a-gallon bump effective this March, but he designates the money mainly for deficit reduction.

"We're only supporting a gas tax increase if it goes toward roads," said Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson, whose group rarely supports any tax increase.

Minnesota's gas tax has stood at 20 cents per gallon since 1988; in neighboring Wisconsin it rises automatically every year and is now 27.5 cents.

Under the coalition's proposal, $1.8 billion would go to road projects and $444 million to transit programs.

There is a general agreement among legislative leaders and Ventura on the need for a transportation package that guarantees a steady flow of money toward projects. There has been far less consensus on how to pay for it.

"We've talked about this for 15 years. Now it's time to take the vote," said Johnson, DFL-Willmar.

The coalition's plan also seeks a statewide vote this fall on a constitutional amendment dedicating all motor vehicle sales tax revenue to transportation. Some of it is used now for other parts of the state budget.

Besides money, the proposal aims to speed up construction by shortening the environmental review process and limiting the ability of local officials to block projects.

More from MPR
  • Audio: MPR's Midday discusses the proposal Guests: Sen. Dean Johnson, D-Willmar, Rep. Tom Workman, R-Chanhassen.
  • Session 2002 Issue Brief: Transportation