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At Issue: Transportation plan becomes law

Published (2/29/2008)
By Mike Cook
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Rep. Bernie Lieder, back center, watches as the Feb. 25 vote to override Gov. Tim PawlentyMinnesotans will pay more at the pump, but ideally they will get more for their money.

The House and Senate overrode a gubernatorial veto of the nearly $6.6 billion transportation law Feb. 25. Six House Republicans joined all DFLers to override the bill on a 91-41 vote. Ninety House votes were needed for an override. The Senate vote was 47-20.

“I am very grateful for the courageous vote,” said House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Mpls). “I think they took a vote that was not easy, that they felt a lot of pressure about.”

The six Republicans that refused to side with the governor were Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), Rep. Ron Erhardt (R-Edina), Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), Rep. Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport), Rep. Neil W. Peterson (R-Bloomington) and Rep. Kathy Tingelstad (R-Andover).

Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) and Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba (DFL-Long Prairie) initially voted against the bill. Both supported the override.

This was the first override of one of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 21 vetoes this biennium, and just the 14th of 448 vetoes to be overridden since 1939.

“The DFL-controlled legislature’s override of this veto shows they’re clearly out-of-touch with Minnesotans who are facing rising gas prices, heating costs and other expenses in tough economic times,” Pawlenty said in a statement. “Raising taxes is always the DFL’s go-to solution and that’s bad for Minnesota’s families and our economy.”

Sponsored by Rep. Bernie Lieder (DFL-Crookston) and Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing), the law would, in part:

• raise the state’s gas tax, for the first time since 1988, by 2 cents April 1, and another 3 cents on Oct. 1, 2008;

• create a $25 tax credit for the lowest tax bracket to help offset the increase;

• authorize $1.8 billion in trunk highway bonding for fiscal years 2009 to 2018, with $1 billion of that in the first two years. A gas tax debt surcharge phased in up to 3.5 cents would be established to repay the trunk highway bonds;

• increase vehicle tab fees on newly registered vehicles and remove tab fee caps of $189 on the first renewal and $99 on the second renewal; and

• authorize counties in the Twin Cities metropolitan area to impose a 0.25 percent metropolitan transportation sales tax without referendum and a $20 excise tax on vehicles sold at retail. In the other 80 counties a tax of up to 0.5 percent could be raised by voter referendum and only for a specific project. In the metropolitan area, all money would go toward transit.

Pawlenty vetoed the bill three days earlier, citing, in part, the increase in taxes and tab fees. He said the gas tax increase is too large, and that the sales tax increase for the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area should first go before voters.

Senate President James Metzen and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher congratulate each other after signing the overridden transportation bill into law. Second Assistant to the Secretary of the Senate Colleen Pacheco and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller witness the signing.“It’s a balanced bill. It provides for transit and highways. It provides the balance we need between rural and metro. It’s also a stimulus for the economy. It’ll put people back to work, and they can do it immediately,” Lieder said. “The size of the bill is a reflection of the way we neglected to do our duty in the past. We’ve reached a point where it’s just about impossible to plug the holes that the Department of Transportation and all of the transit organizations have. … We can’t let the infrastructure deteriorate anymore.”

Lieder previously said that a person who drives 11,000 miles a year, at an average of 20 miles per gallon, would pay an extra $42 per year for gas.

A number of Republicans said there was little, if any, compromise between the sides on the final product. Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan), who called the law “a compromise among thieves,” said it does not protect taxpayers.

“The bill is actually working off the draft that Rep. Erhardt wrote in 2005. Since then, it’s been compromised down $2 billion, the indexing has been taken out of the gas tax, the amount of the gas tax has been lowered, the sales tax has been cut in half, the issue of bike money in the metro area sales tax has been reduced,” countered Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park). “This doesn’t take care of the whole problem, but it is a step forward.”

Other dissenters were concerned about the effect of the law on Minnesotans, when the state economic forecast, released three days later, shows a $935 million biennial deficit. The deficit was projected to be $373 million in November.

Supporters contend the bill is user-financed, meaning if you drive or own a vehicle you’ll pay. “Minnesotans are going to get good value out of this tax increase,” Kelliher said.

Other naysayers expressed concern that there will be no referendum on a potential metropolitan area tax increase. Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) said Hennepin County members who voted against a Twins ballpark bill two years ago because of no voter say in a sales tax increase need to be consistent. “You’re either for it and consistent, or against it and have situational ethics.”


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