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Minnesota Legislature

Ensuring airport funding

Published (2/20/2009)
By Mike Cook
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Aviation supporters want to ensure their contributions get used for proper purposes.

Money in the State Airports Fund comes from a handful of user sources, including aircraft registration fees and fuel taxes.

Last session, $15 million was taken from the fund to help address state budget issues, thereby eliminating state aid for airport projects from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009.

The fund is forecast to have a $6.5 million balance on June 30, 2009, and supporters want the money to be used soon for projects that would improve the safety and reliability of access to the air transportation system.

Sponsored by Rep. Bernie Lieder (DFL-Crookston), HF548 would transfer $5 million from the State Airports Fund to the Transportation Department for assistance to airports and aviation-related activities. The money cannot be spent without legislative authorization.

The House Transportation Finance and Policy Division approved the bill Feb. 17 and sent it to the House Finance Committee. A companion, SF483, sponsored by Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

We want to use this money before it is used for a shortfall, said Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee). “The remaining $1.5 million should be safe from legislative grabbing because we can’t really let the fund go much below that amount without them getting into cash-flow problems.”

Ray Strege, a principal with Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc., said there are “substantially more” than $5 million in construction projects ready for spring construction. “This would give us one-third more construction season by being able to start in the spring than waiting until the first of July. It also gives us the best third of the construction season with the longest days. … No use of General Fund money nor borrowing would be required for this.”

Strege expects state funds would leverage at least twice the amount in construction projects. “On those there would be individual, corporate and state sales taxes paid into the General Fund.”

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