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House again OKs transportation plan heavy on borrowing, General Funds shifts

By Jonathan Avise
Rep. Paul Torkelson presents the omnibus transportation finance bill on the House Floor May 24. Photo by Andrew VonBank

The House passed another omnibus transportation finance bill Wednesday that would rely on General Fund dollars to boost road and bridge spending.

The $5.9 billion, two-year transportation funding bill passed on a 74-54 vote proposes to shift $300 million in auto-related sales tax revenues toward road and bridge construction funding. The bill also calls for $940 million in borrowing over four years — $640 million for general state road construction and $300 million for the Corridors of Commerce program.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska), SS HF3 was sent to the Senate Wednesday evening, where Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) is the sponsor. There, the bill was tabled before that body adjourned shortly before 7 p.m.

“This historic transportation deal is a victory for Minnesotans who have waited for years for legislators to come together to fund our roads and bridges,” Torkelson said on the Floor.

Legislative Republicans have praised the plan, the framework of which was first passed off the House Floor March 31, saying it delivers a much-needed increase in dollars for road and bridge construction without raising taxes or fees.

DFLers — including Gov. Mark Dayton — have argued for an increase in the state’s gas tax, or a hike in license tab fees. Both would offer more long-term, sustainable funding for a state transportation system that badly needs it, they said.

“The third time is not the charm,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls), referencing the two previous times the full House has voted on an omnibus transportation finance package. “This is another bad bill.”

 

No funds for future light rail operations

The current version of the transportation bill avoids deep cuts to Metro Transit proposed in the original legislation. That funding reduction would have caused a huge shortfall in the budget of the Metropolitan Council’s transit agency that provides millions of bus and train rides in the Twin Cities metropolitan area each year.

The bill passed Wednesday would still wipe out the annual state contribution toward the operation costs of future light rail lines, forcing Metro Transit to rely on non-state sources — such as an increase in fares — to cover those costs. That would include the planned Southwest LRT line between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. 

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