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Senate announces $7.5 billion transportation proposal
By Tom Scheck
Associated Press
February 27, 2002
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Senate DFLers are proposing a $7.5 billion package to improve the state's transportation infrastructure. The 10-year plan includes a gas tax increase to pay for roads and bridges and a plan to restructure license tab fees for newer cars and trucks. Senate DFLers say the plan addresses the state's long-term transportation needs but House Republicans say the package is too large.

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, and Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar unveiled a transportation package Wednesday that would raise $7.5 billion over the next 10 years.
(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe says the state's transportation system isn't prepared for population growth, especially in the Twin Cities. The metro area is expected to have another 640,000 people by 2020. Moe and other Senate DFLers are proposing the 10-year, $7.5 billion package to improve the state's highways, local roads and transit system.

The proposal includes a 7-cent-a-gallon increase to the state's gasoline tax to fix roads and bridges. The proposal would also include a trigger to increase the gas tax with inflation.

"We will be laying out a package that, yes, includes an increase to the gas tax and looks at other mechanisms and forms to raise the revenues necessary to address transportation issues in this state and have a futuristic look," Moe said.

Moe says the proposal would also allow the state to borrow $100 million a year for road and bridge construction. It also increases the state's license tab fees for new cars and trucks.

Voters in the 11-county metro area would also have the chance to decide in November if they would like a half-cent sales tax increase to go towards transportation.

Sen. Dave Johnson, DFL-Bloomington, says the entire package will fit the transportation needs for the state's roads, bus system and light rail transit.

"It's clear that people feel that both transit and road funding are key to the transportation problem in the metropolitan area. It's not one or the other, we need to do both. This plan does do both," Johnson said.

State Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg says he's pleased the Senate DFL plan includes funding for both highways and transit. He says the plan resembles Gov. Ventura's transportation plan in 2000 and says it should have been done two years ago.

Tinklenberg says Gov. Ventura will consider the proposal but is more focused on dealing with the state's nearly $2.3 billion deficit. Ventura is proposing a 5-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase to cover a drop in general fund revenue due to cuts in license tab fees.

"The governor has opened the door to a gas tax increase. His proposal is to use it to offset the general fund reductions in transportation and the budget deficit. And again, that's the issue here that needs to be resolved first. How are we going to resolve the overall deficit problem?" he said.

House Republicans say they agree that lawmakers need to address the state's long-term transportation needs but they think the Senate DFL package is too large.

Rep. Carol Molnau, R-Cologne, is the chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee, says her caucus is considering tax increases if they're earmarked for transportation. But she says she thinks a 7-cent-a-gallon increase and higher license tab fees are more than the state can absorb.

"While this politically looks like you're really ending all problems forever, the truth is we gave MnDOT cash and that was a couple of years ago. And they still have $245 million of that $400 plus left and so what is possible to deliver is a different issue," Molnau said.

Molnau says House Republicans will present their transportation package in the next week.

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