- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Gov. Mark Dayton ramped up pressure Thursday on majority House Republicans to produce a viable alternative to his multi-billion dollar proposal for roadwork and mass-transit projects, which is stuck in neutral at the Capitol.

Dayton joined Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk in questioning the GOP’s commitment to tackling the transportation-funding issue this year as the session nears its midpoint. Dayton said the options raised by his adversaries so far amount to “a slice of the surplus and a double-dose of make-believe.”

Dayton has proposed a new gas tax of at least 16 cents per gallon and higher vehicle registration fees to dedicate billions of dollars more for long-term transportation spending. It mirrors a Senate DFL plan.

“I urge the House to step up. They’re co-governing with us and they need to take on that responsibility,” Dayton said. “Quit whacking the pinata of my proposal and come forward with your own.”

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said his caucus won’t raise the gas tax, especially in light of a $1.87 billion budget surplus. He said the GOP would release a comprehensive proposal soon, but have already given indications that they’ll carve off part of the surplus to provide a quick dose of road money.

“It’s disappointing that Democrat leaders have doubled down on their unpopular plan to raise the gas tax and take more money out of the pockets of hardworking Minnesotans,” Daudt said in a written statement.

House Transportation Finance Committee Chairman Tim Kelly said the GOP plan could also seek to earmark taxes already assessed on auto parts and rental cars for transportation purposes.

“When you start adding all those up, there will be no good argument for raising taxes,” Kelly said.

Such set-asides wouldn’t be binding on future legislators unless written into the constitution by voter referendum.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said his chamber’s Democrats will put up at least 31 votes for a transportation plan that includes a long-term funding component and possibly new taxes, which would take 68 to pass. But, he said, “It’s now incumbent on Republicans to put out a plan that actually solves the problem, something they haven’t done yet.”

Bakk said Senate Democrats oppose using money from the general treasury for transportation because it would compete against education, nursing homes and other spending priorities. In rough times, he said transportation money could be the first thing cut, causing a greater backlog in road-and-bridge work. The gas tax is constitutionally dedicated to highway construction.

“Going down the road and trying to commit general fund money when we happen to have a little bit around is not a transportation plan,” Bakk said. “It’s just kicking the can down the road.”

Dayton will keep up his transportation offensive on Friday with a visit to St. Cloud and Willmar to discuss area projects that could result from his plan.

___

Associated Press writer Kyle Potter contributed.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide