The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 1, 2013

House transportation leader to push gas tax increase

(Continued)

MANKATO —

“This is all going straight back to Republican headquarters,” Hornstein said.

Torkelson is a strong supporter of completing the four-lane expansion of Highway 14 between Rochester and New Ulm, a long-sought project that would cost more than $400 million. At a meeting of Hornstein’s committee earlier his week, Torkelson said improvements are needed even beyond the elimination of the remaining two-lane segments east of New Ulm and east of Owatonna.

“I just hope we can get that section to New Ulm done so I can start working on the section from New Ulm on into the rest of my district,” Torkelson said.

After Friday’s meeting, Torkelson said he was still absorbing the details of Hornstein’s planned legislation.

“This is the first serious proposal I’ve heard,” he said. “It will be a tough sell, but it’s worth having the conversation. I think all of us care about transportation infrastructure funding. How we get there is a challenge.”

Torkelson recalled the 2008 battle to boost the gas tax over the veto of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The veto override succeeded when a half-dozen House Republicans joined all Democrats in providing the two-thirds majority required.

Those six Republicans were hammered by party leaders, however, losing leadership positions in the House and — in several cases — failing to get their party’s endorsement in the following election.

“There were political results of that (vote) that were pretty tough for some folks,” Torkelson said.

At the same time, he noted that rising fuel prices drive up the cost of constructing roads without increasing highway funding revenue (because the tax is applied per gallon rather than as a percentage of the price paid at the pump).

Rep. Kathy Brynaert, a Mankato Democrat who arranged Hornstein’s visit, said there’s a difference between 2013 and 2008 when it comes to a gas tax increase. This time, Republican support wouldn’t be mandatory because — assuming Dayton would sign the bill — the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate wouldn’t need the extra votes required for a veto override.

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