In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Session 2003
DocumentSession 2003
DocumentBudget and Taxes
DocumentHigher Education
DocumentK-12 Education
DocumentHealth and Welfare
DocumentPublic Safety
More from MPR
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
House passes transportation, criminal justice budgets
Larger view
Rep. Bill Kuisle, R-Rochester, chairs the House Transportation Finance Committee. (MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
The Minnesota House has approved a transportation funding bill that injects more than $1 billion in new money for road projects over the next five years. The plan closely mirrors the proposal favored by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. But critics say it offers too little new cash. The body also approved spending reductions in the courts and criminal justice system. The two budget bills are the first to pass the House this year.

St. Paul, Minn. — The House transportation package would borrow more than $500 million to provide immediate funding for road and bridge construction. The debt would be repaid through administrative and maintenance savings at the state Tranportation Department.

House Transportation Finance chair Bill Kuisle, R-Rochester, says so far MnDOT has been spared the budget scrutiny that other departments have faced. Kuisle says the bill also cuts through red tape in the road construction process, allowing each dollar to go farther.

"Make sure that when you put money into roads, it goes to roads and not just into the system. And that's what has happened in the past, and that's why we aren't getting these roads done," Kuisle says. "There's been an increase in funding every year, but it's just not getting to the roads. And that's what this bill has done, is try to take a major initiative towards that."

Somebody better start talking about the transportation needs of this state, which are huge. We've gone through three governors just dinking around.
- Rep. Ron Erhardt, R-Edina

The plan would also seek an advance on federal funds, adding another $500 million to transportation projects sooner rather than later. House Republicans beat back several amendments to increase the state gas tax by a nickel a gallon, and boost license tab fees, in order to increase funding both short- and long-term.

Rep. Ron Erhardt, R-Edina, who chairs the Transportation Policy Committee, broke ranks with his caucus to criticize the lack of additional revenues.

"If you don't want to vote for it, don't vote for it. But somebody better start talking about the transportation needs of this state, which are huge. We've gone through three governors just dinking around," says Erhardt.

The House plan also cuts funding for public transit, although it does allow some roadway improvements -- such as shoulder lanes or park-and-ride lots -- that could benefit buses. Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, says the transit reductions don't just hurt Twin Cities commuters.

"Kandiyohi Area Transit and other rural systems are decreasing their routes, decreasing the time of day they serve the people and increasing the fares. That's not good for my shift workers, it's not good for my senior citizens, it's not good for my limited-income people and rural Minnesota," says Juhnke.

A competing Senate plan would increase both the gas tax and license tab fees. It would also boost transit spending by almost $200 million over the next two years.

Earlier in the day, the House passed a judiciary finance bill that scaled back funding for the courts and the Corrections Department. That's part of an effort to erase a projected $4.2 billion deficit.

The plan allows double-bunking of inmates at the St. Cloud and Stillwater prisons, and would house some short-term offenders in county jails rather than state prisons. It also cuts funds for the state court system and legal aid for low-income defendants. DFL Minority Leader Matt Entenza argued the plan was a significant step backwards.

"These Republican budgets are building a bridge. But they're building a bridge back to an older time. Back to the 19th century, even," says Entenza. "Because they're cutting, they're slashing, they're making life easier for those people who we want to stop doing bad things in our criminal justice system."

One of the deepest cuts is to battered women's shelters. But Rep. Steve Smith, R-Mound, says the shelters aren't as high a priority as the court and prison systems. Smith chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

"We have cut costs in putting this bill together -- cut spending I should say. I think the bill -- you'll see that we've also addressed the areas of core service to the state in the areas of courts, corrections, public safety, and did it without raising taxes," says Smith.

The two bills represent the opening act in the House budget-balancing plan. They'll continue debating spending bills throughout the week.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects