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During a debate in St. Cloud, the four major party candidates for governor pushed issues important to areas outside the metro; access to health care, business development and the state's budget. But the candidates hit on one issue several times: transportation. The candidates said traffic congestion across much of the state will get worse in the future. But each one offers a different solution to the problem.
St. Cloud is a changing city. The Twin Cities' suburbs are growing closer. And with that growth comes increased traffic problems. DFLer Roger Moe, Republican Tim Pawlenty, Green Party candidate Ken Pentel and the Independence Party's Tim Penny each offered their own plan to deal with congestion.
Democrat Roger Moe says there are already many transportation projects on the table.
"I am an advocate of the Northstar corridor, I understand that you're going to have to raise the gas tax and I've said that we should do that. I also want to allow for a metropolitan referendum so if they want to raise their own sales tax to address transportation issues they can do so. The bottom line is this you've got to get along with it," Moe said.
Moe says he's pushing for measures in the Legislature to fix the state's transportation problems. But he accused his Republican opponent Tim Pawlenty of getting in the way.
Pawlenty says he'll only support transportation projects that make economic sense. Pawlenty sites an early Northstar Rail line study that said the project was less efficient than the Hiawatha light-rail line in Minneapolis.
"I'm not going to support a project that is 40 percent worse economically than Hiawatha," Pawlenty said. "Now there are new studies out and the project is changing and I said I would look at those. But we are going to put a measuring stick to these projects."
Pawlenty doesn't support a hike in the state's gas tax to fund road projects.
Independence Party candidate Tim Penny says he supports both Northstar and a boost in the state's gas tax. "We haven't increased the gas tax in 14 years. I don't know anybody that can reasonably suggest that we can build as much roadway now that we built 14 years ago without extra money toward this endeavor... people aren't stupid, you can trust them with the truth of you want more and better roads, more and better lanes, you have to pay for them," he said.
Penny says the state should fund transit projects now. He says mass transit may not be popular now, but in 20 years it will be a important part of the state's transportation plan.
The Green Party's Ken Pentel says investing in transit is a given. But Pentel goes a step further saying cities need to plan around transit.
"Basically where you walk out the door, and the distance between your home and work, home and school, home and the store is reduced. Think about it if we plan in a way where the distance for our basic needs is two miles or three miles rather than 10 miles. Over a 20-year period think of the savings, the reduction of stress and tension in our lives, the reduction in taxation, the healthier air we can breathe," Pentel said.
Pentel was careful to stress cost savings to the business oriented crowd. The audience was mostly business owners. The debate was sponsored by the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce.