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Transportation plans evolving

Minnesota House Transportation Chairman Tim Kelly of Red Wing talks Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, about a Republican plan for short-term transportation financing. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL — Transportation funding this legislative session is about as easy to navigate as a rural dirt road after a summer thunderstorm.

It is obvious to every Minnesota Legislature observer that transportation will be a major issue, but the issue became pretty confusing in the opening days of the 2015 session.

Gov. Mark Dayton has given a good idea about what he will propose for transportation funding, but not the details. Senate Democrats did not place transportation in their top six priorities, a surprise to many. House Republicans suggested spending $750 million the state already has. And a transportation advocacy group suggests a plan that looks a lot like what Dayton discussed.

Let’s see if we can pave over some of the mud.

First, House Republicans did not make it clear when they unveiled their priorities Thursday that their plan was only a short-term one, not one that would fix all the road and bridge problems they think should be addressed.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said that more time is needed to compile a comprehensive transportation funding plan. So for now, House Republicans limit their request to $750 million, with a bigger proposal coming later.

Kelly said that he is getting money for his bill from a variety of places, including from projects that were funded but not built, projects that did not need all the money appropriated and making the Department of Transportation more efficient. About $200 million also would come from the general fund; usually, most transportation money comes from funds dedicated to roads, bridges and transit.

While House Republicans put transportation No. 4 on their priority list, it did not make the top six for Senate Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, emphasized that senators understand the importance of transportation funding and that Dayton and House Republicans want something done. Dayton says he will focus on education and transportation this session.

Senate Transportation Chairman Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, said he will release his plan in coming days, but unlike the GOP it is expected to include a transit component. It likely will include some form of a gasoline tax increase and a Twin Cities tax for transit.

Dibble said his plan will look a lot like one Dayton has sketched out and that transportation advocates in Move MN propose. That mixes a wholesale gasoline sales tax increase with higher vehicle license fees. Also included is an additional tax in the Twin Cities to fund transit needs there.

Estimates for transportation needs in the next 10 years range from $2 billion to $6 billion.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.