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House panel rejects nickel hike in gas tax; registration fees may rise
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Supporters of a legislatively enacted gas tax increase said it would give an immediate infusion of cash into a transportation system that faces a backlog of $1 billion a year by some estimates. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) A House committee on Thursday defeated a plan to add a nickel more to Minnesota's 20-cent-per-gallon gas tax but decided that some car owners should pay more to register their vehicles.

The House Transportation Committee, on a divided voice vote, did approve a spending bill that could put $6.3 billion into road and transit projects over the next decade. That amount would be cut in half if voters don't agree in 2006 to dedicate future vehicle sales tax proceeds to transportation needs through a constitutional amendment.

The committee, also on a split vote, stripped a provision that would have let citizens decide in a statewide referendum whether to raise the gas tax. The vote wouldn't occur until 2006.

Supporters of a legislatively enacted gas tax increase said it would give an immediate infusion of cash into a transportation system that faces a backlog of $1 billion a year by some estimates. A parade of supporters, from transit users to highway builders, voiced their backing before the vote.

But Gov. Tim Pawlenty has vowed to veto any bill that contains a state tax increase. And committee chairwoman Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, said legislators should take Pawlenty at his word.

"There will never be enough votes to override a veto on the gas tax," she said.

Rep. Dan Larson, DFL-Bloomington, said he's not convinced Pawlenty would follow through on the veto threat. The gas tax is dedicated to road funding, so some regard it more as a user fee.

"An override might be difficult, but I don't know why we wouldn't put pressure on the governor," Larson said. "If he wants to veto it, then we'll go back to work."

A gas-tax increase has decent odds of getting through the Senate, and it could resurface as an amendment on the House floor.

A few revenue-raisers did survive. Driver's license fees would go up by $3 apiece and it would cost $2.50 more to apply for a vehicle title.

License tabs, which the Legislature cut in 2000, would bounce back up.

Currently, the cost of registering a car is $189 in the second year, $99 in the third through 10th year and $35 once a car turns 11 model years old.

Under the bill, it would cost $189 to register a car in years two and three and $99 from year four on.

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