ST. PAUL – Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, is joining fellow House Republicans in urging lawmakers to work together to finalize a transportation package this session.
"A top priority for the remainder of the 2016 session should be to put in place a stable, long-term source of transportation funding that focuses on roads and bridges," Nornes said. "The people in our state agree we need to catch up on improving our roads and bridges and it's time to make that happen."
The House Republican plan uses taxes Minnesotans are already paying on car parts, auto repairs, vehicle leases, and rental cars and dedicates that revenue through a special Transportation Stability Fund. By adding in a portion of the $900 million budget surplus and bonding, the Republican plan would fix 15,500 lane miles of roads and 330 bridges statewide.
On the other hand, the Senate DFL majority recently unveiled its proposed budget targets, devoting less than 4 percent of the $900 million surplus to transportation. In addition, Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL lawmakers continue advocating for a historic gas tax increase and expansion of light rail in the Twin Cities area.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Dayton’s Metropolitan Council chairman have urged legislators to spend state funds on Southwest Light Rail this session. The Metropolitan Council Transportation Committee estimates the total cost of the SWLRT Green Line extension has grown by nearly 50 percent, with initial estimates at $1.2 billion while recent reports state a new cost of $1.77 billion. Federal and local tax dollars are expected to fund part of the overall cost of the project if it moves forward.
Nornes said dollars used to cover the high cost of expanding light-rail trains in the Twin Cities would be better used on the state's roads and bridges. He indicated the state could repave six lanes of every interstate highway in the state, fund four years of Metro Transit bus operations, raise funding for the new small cities road and bridges program and pay for an I-94 project costing up to $6 million near Rothsay – all for the cost of one light-rail line.
"The vast majority of Minnesotans rely on our state's roads and bridges as their primary means of travel," Nornes said. "That is where our transportation dollars should go in order to have the maximum benefit."
Dayton and the Senate DFL majority continue to advocate for the largest gas tax increase in state history. The proposal would increase gas by a minimum of 16 cents per gallon, a figure that would rise if the cost of gas increases. A tax at that level also would make Minnesota's the second-highest state gas tax.
"The big thing is we already have the means available to make significant improvements," Nornes said. "We do not have to resort to raising the gas tax, something that would hurt our lowest earners the most, if we just follow through with making roads and bridges the spending priorities people agree they are."