The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 1, 2013

House transportation leader to push gas tax increase

MANKATO — A legislative leader on transportation issues told Mankato-area civic leaders he plans to push a 5-cent increase in Minnesota’s gasoline tax with much of the revenue directed to upgrades of “corridors of commerce” such as Highway 14.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, chairman of the House Transportation Finance Committee, said his legislation also is likely to include a local option sales tax that county boards could authorize to generate additional funding for roads or transit.

“I think the governor would sign such a bill,” Hornstein said of Gov. Mark Dayton. “But it’s up to the Legislature to pass it first.”

The county transportation sales tax wouldn’t require approval of voters via a referendum — just a majority of the county board, said Hornstein, a Minneapolis Democrat.

 And there may be some extra incentive for counties along Highway 14 to pass the tax because the “corridors of commerce” revenue would be awarded on a competitive basis — with local matching dollars likely to be a factor in which projects win the competition.

All told, the 5-cent gas tax combined with local matches and bond sales could generate up to $1 billion over 10 years, much of it aimed at 10 or so high-priority highway corridors around the state, Hornstein told community leaders at the Greater Mankato Growth headquarters.

The tax increases he plans to pursue are far from extreme considering the multi-billion-dollar gap between available transportation revenue and the documented backlog of projects that would simply maintain the state’s current road system, he said: “It’s a moderate, modest bill.”

Any increase in the gas tax, particularly at a time of steep increases in the price of gasoline, has the potential to generate Republican attacks of Democrats, who control the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in two decades. Hornstein joked about unveiling his plans at a meeting that included Rep. Paul Torkelson, a Republican who represents Brown County.

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