Senate OKs gas tax hike, sets up showdown with Pawlentyby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
Democrats in the Minnesota Senate have made their position clear on the need for a large state investment into roads, bridges and transit. On a 42-24 largely party-line vote, they passed a massive transportation funding bill Friday that would raise the state gas tax by 10 cents a gallon.
A similar bill is expected to pass in the DFL-controlled House on Saturday, setting the stage for a promised veto from Gov. Pawlenty.
St. Paul, Minn. — The Senate transportation bill would raise $1 billion a year for roads, bridges and transit, through a combination of bonding and increases in taxes and fees.
The gas tax increase of 10 cents a gallon would be the first adjustment in the tax in nearly two decades. In addition, counties could impose an annual $20 wheelage tax on vehicles.
Metro area counties could raise the sales tax by half a cent without a referendum and also add a $20 excise tax on new vehicles.
Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, says the new revenue would still only cover 75 percent of the state's highway and transit needs.
"This is the Mount Everest of all problems that the state of Minnesota is facing," Murphy said. "This bill attempts -- through massive investment in our infrastructure -- attempts to move Minnesota into the 21st century in regard to transportation systems."
But neither Murphy nor his DFL colleagues could convince even one Republican to support the bill. That makes the prospects of a veto override unlikely.
For Republicans, the cost was simply too high. Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, says average folks would be hit hard by the tax hikes and fees.
"Somebody that's making $40,000 a year, it would take them, they would have to get a 2 percent increase just to pay for this bill. Not for anything else, just for this bill," said Day.
Day prefers Gov. Pawlenty's transportation package, which relies on borrowing, rather than tax increases, to pay for priority highway projects.
The Republican governor vetoed a gas tax two year ago, and he's promised repeatedly to do the same this year. Pawlenty is urging quick action on the bill he doesn't like.
"It's a big mammoth bucket of tax increases that's going to get vetoed. They know that," said Pawlenty. "So, just send it on over to my desk, I'll veto it, and then we can get on to the real discussion of what we're going to do for transportation."
After the Senate vote, DFL Sen. Murphy said he's already been talking privately with several Republicans about making revisions to the transportation bill.
"Right now with this bill, we don't have enough votes to override a veto. But we can massage things so that we can get enough votes to override a veto," Murphy said.
The DFL-controlled House is expected to pass a similar transportation bill during a rare Saturday floor session. House Republicans raised the issue a day early, by introducing a minority transportation proposal that wouldn't raise taxes.
House Minority Leader Marty Seifert says the DFL bill goes too far.
"You want to do it all, in one big pig bill, tomorrow. You want the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, ashes to ashes. And the ash heap is where that bill is going to end after governor vetoes it," said Seifert.
The governor won't get his chance to use his veto stamp until House and Senate negotiators work out the differences between their transportation bills.
- All Things Considered, 03/23/2007, 5:24 p.m.