ST. PAUL – Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, is joining fellow House Republicans in urging lawmakers to work together to finalize a transportation package this session.
"The good news is everyone appears to be on the same page that transportation should be a priority this session," Urdahl said. "The key to the finished product will be focusing on what we all know, that our roads and bridges need improvements."
House Republicans propose using taxes Minnesotans are already paying on car parts, auto repairs, vehicle leases, and rental cars and dedicating that revenue through a special Transportation Stability Fund. By adding in a portion of the $900 million budget surplus and bonding, Republicans say their plan would fix 15,500 lane miles of roads and 330 bridges statewide.
Meantime, the Senate DFL majority takes a different approach through its recently unveiled budget proposal, devoting less than 4 percent of the $900 million state budget 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 advances.
"It is difficult to see widespread support for such costly light-rail expansion with commitments for future spending when we already face significant challenges in maintaining the state's transportation infrastructure," Urdahl said. "For the cost of building one rail line, we could instead repave six lanes across our state's entire interstate highway system, provide a substantial increase to the new small cities road and bridges program, conduct a multi-million dollar project on Highway 4 near Cosmos and even fund four years of Metro Transit bus operations."
Dayton and the Senate DFL majority also continue advocating for the largest gas tax increase in state history. The proposal would raise gas prices by a minimum of 16 cents per gallon, a figure that could rise with the price of gasoline. A tax at that level would move Minnesota to the second-highest gas tax in the nation.
"One thing about raising the gas tax is it would disproportionately impact people with low incomes," Urdahl said. "Another thing to consider is whether the gas tax's reliability will diminish as technology continues to advance, resulting in less gasoline consumption and a fall in revenue."