- Associated Press - Saturday, March 29, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota drivers are dealing with one of the worst years for potholes in a generation, but hopes for a quick political fix are fading.

Transportation advocates were hoping for a large infusion of new cash for roads, bridges and mass transit, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature won’t approve the tax increases needed to provide the funds, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported (https://bit.ly/1mfukAz ).

Minnesota’s aging highway system, which has more than 140,000 of state and local roads, is the fifth largest in the nation. Half of the pavements are at least 50 years old, and 40 percent of the bridges are more than 40 years old. Maintenance costs are growing but transportation revenues have been flat.

The House Transportation Finance Committee passed a bill this month that would have raised an estimated $550 million, much of it for infrastructure repair, in part through a 5 percent sales tax on wholesale fuels. It would have added about 12 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas.

But the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce testified against the bill, and every Republican on the committee voted against it. That prompted House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, to acknowledge it was all but dead.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor majorities could have tried to pass the bill without GOP votes, but that’s a political risk during a year that Dayton and all 134 House members are up for election.

“I have thought all along that this requires a long discussion in a non-election year,” Dayton said. “Next year would be a better time to deal with this.”

In the meantime, state Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle drafted a plan this month to generate most of the $6.5 billion in new revenue that his department estimates are needed to maintain and upgrade the highway system over the next decade.

Zelle’s proposal would fill most of the funding gap with a 6.5 percent wholesale-fuel sales tax on top of the current 28.5 cents-per-gallon gas tax. It also recommends selling highway bonds, drawing cash from the state’s general fund and seeking $700 million in savings through increased efficiencies in the transportation department.

Dayton said he doesn’t necessarily support the plan, but hopes it can lead to a deeper conversation.

“Almost everybody is in agreement that we need to improve our highway and public transit systems, but nobody really wants to pay for it,” he said.


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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