The House and Senate passed a $6.7 billion transportation finance bill Friday night that represents a scaling-back of Gov. Walz and the House DFL’s ambitions as the 2019 session began for huge new investments in Minnesota’s roads, bridges and public transit systems.
The proposal would appropriate just shy of $100 million in new transportation spending over the 2020-21 biennium. It includes $55 million to replace the troubled Minnesota Licensing and Registration System and $13 million in reimbursement to deputy registrars that were hit hard by the problematic rollout of the system in July 2017.
It also includes $50 million for the Corridors of Commerce program, and $23 million in additional proposed funding for Metro Mobility, the metro region’s increasingly stretched transit service for the elderly and people with disabilities.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls) and Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), doesn’t include major DFL transportation initiatives like the proposed 20-cent gas tax increase, metro area transit-dedicated sales tax increase, nor vehicle registration fee increases. Together, they would have raised an additional $1.5 billion over the biennium for road, bridge and transit projects.
[MORE: See the compromise spreadsheet]
Passed late Friday, hours into a special session to finish the two-year budget, the bill was passed a short time 54-13 by the Senate.
Hornstein expressed his disappointment in the bill on the floor, saying it came back from negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders a far different piece of legislation than he felt was needed.
“The status quo approach is actually fiscally irresponsible,” he said. “We are going to reach a funding cliff in coming years … and we will be in even more dire straits than we are now.”
DFLers have advocated for an increase in dedicated road and bridge funding through an increase in the constitutionally dedicated gas tax to tackle a $6 billion maintenance backlog. They have also pushed for an increased metro sales tax to boost spending on existing service and adding new routes.
Legislative Republicans, meanwhile, have pushed for the use of existing General Fund dollars to fund additional road and bridge projects — and haven’t been supportive of new transit funding.
“We’re doing good work here, folks,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska), the Republican lead on the House Transportation Finance and Policy Division. “And I have to, from my perspective, be happy about many of the things that are not in this bill.”
Also included in the agreement are a number of policy measures; among them are those that would:
Among the notable House provisions that didn’t make the cut under the agreement was the driver’s licenses for all measure. It would have issued driver’s licenses to Minnesota drivers without regard to immigration status.