- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - With just a week left before Minnesota’s Legislature must adjourn, Gov. Mark Dayton says he’s trying to present a “middle ground” on a transportation funding plan but that it’s up to Republicans to meet him halfway if they want a bill this year.

The Democratic governor presented two proposals Monday to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt. Both would raise $600 million annually for the entire state, but one includes a 5-cent gas tax increase while the other relies heavily on increasing license tab fees.

After meeting with legislative leaders, Dayton said he’s pushing for a “middle ground” by including $200 million in general fund spending and offering a proposal without a gas tax increase. But he said the outcome depends on Daudt.

“If he’s not willing to find a compromise and meet halfway, then we won’t have a transportation bill this year,” the governor said.

Legislative leaders have stuck to the same battle lines in the transportation funding debate over the past two sessions. Both parties agree something needs to get done, but how to pay for repairs has been the main sticking point. Democrats have said the state needs to raise some money in order pay for a decade’s worth of repairs to Minnesota’s roads and bridges, while Republicans argue lawmakers should use existing revenues instead of raising taxes when the state has a budget surplus.

Daudt said he’s pleased the governor has agreed to use some general fund spending but that he “didn’t move very far” and his plan still relies too much on tax increases.

Nonetheless, Daudt said he’s optimistic they’ll pass a transportation funding plan this year.

“We still believe we can get there, we still believe we can do that,” he said. “I hope that nobody else throws in the towel and says that they don’t want to get our work done.”

Bakk said Monday night he hadn’t had a chance to talk with the speaker about the governor’s proposals and where they could find a compromise. He said Senate Democrats would likely prefer a proposal with a gas tax increase higher than the 5-cent tax Dayton proposed, while the governor’s proposed $400 million license tab increase would be a “very, very hard sell” in the Senate.

“His offer with the gas tax is closer to where the DFL Senate could be successful,” he said.

Both of Dayton’s plans would dedicate $600 million annually statewide to maintain and improve the state’s roads and bridges.

His first proposal, which the governor said he prefers, splits the funding between general fund revenue, a 5-cent gas tax increase and increases in license tab fees.

His second includes $200 million of general fund revenue but relies mostly on increased license tab fees. Some drivers would see their license tab fee increase by 96 percent under that proposal.

Both proposals include a metro-area half-cent sales tax that would fund transit projects only in the Twin Cities metro. That would raise an expected $280 million annually.

Daudt said it’s discouraging that the governor hasn’t budged on his push to increase taxes to fund transit projects.


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