By Rep. Dean Urdahl
The Transportation Finance Bill passed both the House and the Senate by wide margins recently and these are two key points: No tax increases and strong support of Greater Minnesota.
The bill (H.F. 1309) sets forth transportation funding for the next two years. Greater Minnesota will receive some added transit assistance funding as this bill shifts $2.5 million from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2009. Fiscal year 2011 funding will be back-filled with additional funds allocated from motor vehicle sales tax revenue.
A study of the Little Crow Transitway corridor – which runs through the heart of District 18B – also will be conducted. The study is designed to determine what – if anything – should be done to reduce pressure along Highway 12 west of the Twin Cities.
Funding for the Minnesota State Patrol is held level through this bill. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has insisted state patrol funding not be cut, but a previous version of the bill contained cuts to this area when it passed the House. Fortunately, a conference committee restored funding to at least keep it steady.
Overall, the bill increases funding for state road construction by $174 million due to increased federal aid. The net result of the trunk highway fund changes in the biennium are a $47.6 million increase for state road construction, a $6.8 million decrease for investment support, and a $17.3 million decrease for operations and maintenance.
The cuts to maintenance are not ideal, but tough decisions like these will have to be made as we work to erase a $6.4 billion budget deficit in these generally tough economic times. What makes things even more difficult is the Legislature and Pawlenty do not have a final agreement on overall state spending, so we are cutting into a pie before we know how big it is. On the other hand, waiting could damage a number of rural transit systems that need help right away.
On another note, the primary-offense seat belt law was pushed hard this session but it was stripped from the bill.
Transportation accounts for a relatively small part of the state budget, so this bill was not as hotly debated as others we will review in the days to come. Education and health and human services combine to account for more than two-thirds of our state’s budget, so completing those bills will be much more consequential as we close in on our May 18 adjournment date.
Dean Urdahl represents District 18B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The district includes most of Meeker County and a portion of Wright County. This is Urdahl’s fourth term in the Legislature after being elected in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.