St. Paul, MN- In a rare act of bipartisan cooperation, nine moderate House Republicans joined with the majority of House Democrats last week to pass a transportation bill that will infuse $7.7 billion of desperately needed funding into the state's transportation system. The bill passed by a 72-62 margin.
"There was strong bipartisan support for this transportation funding bill," said Rep. Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin/Coon Rapids). "Solutions to our ongoing congestion and gridlock is overdue, and we needed to compromise to develop a plan to make our roads safer."
To raise revenue, the bill increases the gas tax by 5 cents this year and another 5 cents in 2008 and tab fees will increase on new automobiles. (Fees are not increased for existing vehicles.) The bill also authorizes $100 million in Trunk Highway bonds. Funding for public transportation was also addressed by dedicating a quarter of a cent of the already existing seven-county metro sales tax revenue to transit.
"If we don't pay for road improvements, we'll keep paying the congestion tax," said Rep. Melissa Hortman (Brooklyn Park/Coon Rapids). "Right now, the average person is sitting in traffic about 42 hours a year."
"We need to find a solution that will enable us to fund repairs and improvements to roads such as 610, 169 and 10, making them safer and less congested," said Dittrich. "This is the only plan we have seen that had the bipartisan support to get passed."
The Houses bill will next meet the Senate transportation bill in Conference Committee, where differences between the two bills will be worked out before moving on to the Governor.
Both Hortman and Dittrich are optimistic that the spirit of compromise indicated in the passage of this bill will continue through the rest of the session.
"With this bill, we made real progress towards a solution for some of our transportation problems," said Dittrich. "I am optimistic that we can continue to work together to pass good legislation that will benefit all of Minnesota."
"Five cents a gallon is worth it to see my son's smile when I'm there to catch his first pitch," added Hortman.