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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL)

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Balanced Transportation Plan Moves Minnesota Forward

Monday, March 03, 2008
Dear Editor, On February 25th the Minnesota House and Senate, with bipartisan support, passed an important, comprehensive transportation funding package into law. This bill represents a solution built through bipartisan discussions and compromise. The bill takes a balanced, fiscally responsible approach. It will deliver safer road and bridge conditions in every county in the state, create jobs and stimulate economic development, and reduce upward pressure on property taxes. For the first time in Minnesota's history, it also provides a dedicated source of funding for transit. Many of the Governor’s ideas for transportation funding were included in the package and the Legislature removed many provisions in the name of compromise. The transportation bill will invest $6.6 billion into our roads and bridges over the next ten years. In District 47B alone, Anoka County will receive $56 million, Hennepin County will receive $152 million, Brooklyn Park will receive $5.7 million, and Coon Rapids will receive $5.8 million for county and city roads. The new funding ensures bridge repairs and replacement are not delayed. Six hundred million dollars is provided in the first two years to fix 13 fracture-critical trunk highway bridges, many of which have lower ratings than the collapsed I-35W bridge. Fixing our roads and bridges will stimulate our struggling economy by creating jobs in our hard-hit construction sector. This transportation package will create an estimated 33,000 jobs per year over the next five years. The bill decreases pressure on Minnesotans' property tax bills. State funding for transportation has not kept pace with inflation, leaving cities and counties with no choice but to raise property taxes to pay for local road repairs and projects. By providing increased state resources to counties and cities for transportation projects, this bill allows local governments to rely less on property taxes for road and bridge funding. Our transportation improvements will be funded by a nickel-per-gallon gas tax increase. The gas tax will go up two cents on April 1st, and another three cents on October 1st. As the state borrows money in coming years to build roads and brides, an additional half-cent to three and a half cents debt-repayment surcharge will be added to the price of gas. Its important we adopted a "pay-as-you-go" approach so we don’t saddle our children and grandchildren with billions of dollars of debt and interest. With fuel prices already high, it was not an easy decision to raise the gas tax. The unmet needs were great, however, and we had reached the point where we could no longer fail to act. Our gas tax had not been increased in twenty years. It's important to know that Minnesota's constitution requires that 100% of gas tax revenue go to roads and bridges. No gas tax revenue can ever be spent on transit -- or anything other than roads or bridges. Minnesota has long lacked a dedicated stream of funding to support a transit system. Just as the Eisenhower generation provided us with substantial investment in a freeway and highway system that met the needs of future generations, we need to "pay it forward" and leave such a transit system for future generations. That's why the bill we passed allows metro area counties to raise the sales tax by ¼ percent and use the money for transit projects. Most people realize we needed to do something to fix our roads and bridges and build a transit system. Our grandparents' and parents' generations paid to build our state highways and our national interstate system. Until now, our generation hasn’t paid to maintain what previous generations built, nor have we built anything that serves both our needs and those of future generations. It was our turn to take responsibility to leave Minnesota in better shape than we found it. I am especially proud that we were able to bridge the partisan divide to get this comprehensive transportation plan enacted into law. Sincerely, State Representative Melissa Hortman – District 47B Brooklyn Park, Coon Rapids