The Minnesota Legislature’s apparent abandonment of even a modest increase in transportation funding this year is a disappointment.
Senate and House leaders dropped the idea of raising the gas tax by 7 cents a gallon after Gov. Mark Dayton said he couldn’t support it. His chief of staff said the tax puts an “undue burden” on the middle class and “isn’t large enough solution for the statewide transportation needs that Minnesota is facing.”
An advisory panel that studied transportation on Dayton’s behalf last year recommended a higher gas tax; among the panel’s members was Charlie Zelle, the man whom the governor later named transportation commissioner.
Without citing any poll or survey, the governor’s office said the tax has “little to no support outside the walls of the Capitol,” which is strange. When the governor visited the Mankato area and asked a show of hands of those supporting the tax, the majority of the 200 attendees raised their hands.
However, the governor’s office said he does support raising sales taxes in the Twin Cities metro area for light-rail and bus transit. Apparently those middle class taxpayers won’t find that as an “undue burden” and has “support both inside the Legislature and with the public” again without citing the source of that polling.
The governor would rather wait for his new Department of Transportation chief to develop a more comprehensive plan that can generate billions of dollars. The tax increase that was tabled “wasn’t enough.” Well, zero isn’t enough either and waiting only delays projects that have long languished with inadequate funding and allocation.
In southern Minnesota, Senate Transportation and Public Safety Division Committee Chairman Scott Dibble said a long-sought reconstruction of Highway 14 to address safety and commerce concerns “is absolutely going to wait longer.” He said other projects that could be held up include an expansion of Interstate 94 to ease congestion between the Minneapolis suburbs and St. Cloud, a Highway 23 project near Willmar and a Highway 169 rework between Tower and Ely.