Transportation Talks Resume at Capitol

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By Tim Pugmire MPR, March 14, 2016

Democrats in the Minnesota Senate are renewing their call for a “dedicated and sustainable” funding source for transportation projects.

DFL lawmakers held a news conference Monday to stress the importance of reaching a deal with House Republicans this session. Lawmakers failed to reach a deal last session, and the partisan disagreements over where to get the money haven’t been resolved.

Senate Transportation Committee Chair Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said an investment in roads, bridges and transit is long overdue.

“Ensuring that Minnesota citizens are mobile and have access to the things we all need to do every day is simply one of the most basic, fundamental public services, one of the very core functions of our government,” Dibble said. “Compounding the increasing pressure on our roads and transit infrastructure is the fact that our existing ways to pay for them are not keeping up with inflation.”

For now, the DFL- controlled Senate is sticking with a plan that relies on increases in the gas tax, fees and the sales tax in the metropolitan area. But Dibble said the Senate might be willing to make some concessions, once negotiations resume.

“At a minimum, we need to be putting in $600 million more per year,” he said.

House Republicans oppose any tax increases. They insist on using existing sales tax revenue and surplus money to pay for road and bridge projects, and not transit.

House Transportation Committee Chair Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said he remains optimistic about reaching an agreement this year, as long as it doesn’t include a gas tax increase.

“Our plan has the funding needed,” Kelly said. “I’m looking forward to carrying our bill forward.”

Kelly said a newly reconstituted conference committee on transportation funding will begin meeting later this week.

“I go back to the same message [I’ve said before] which is, ‘Get it done,’ “ Dayton said.

The House GOP renewed its proposal for $450 million in tax cuts. Though no details were released, House Taxes Committee Chairman Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said it would give reductions to Social Security recipients, veterans, college students with loans and parents with child care costs.

Asked about a package of tax breaks and a liquor license to help the Minnesota United build a $150 million soccer stadium in the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul, Davids said the measure is under discussion.

Republicans are expected to release a $800 million public works package Wednesday, up $200 million from an earlier proposal. House Republicans need DFL votes for the state borrowing measure, which requires a supermajority to pass.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, was dismissive of the GOP plan’s lack of transit money and use of the general fund to pay for transportation spending.

“While it is encouraging that House Republicans are finally acknowledging that new revenue is needed, their latest offer still relies heavily on the general fund, pitting future funding for our schools against roads and bridges,” Thissen said in a statement.

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