By Josh Moniz
ST. PAUL - A bill targeted at helping to complete Highway 14's four-lane expansion and other similar programs is set to pass in the Minnesota Legislature, but its funding mechanism is unlikely to receive approval.
A vehicle with no gas
Minnesota House Transportation Finance chair Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) introduced the "Corridors of Commerce" program. His plan sought to tackle economy-boosting transportation projects held up by MnDOT's restricted budget. Highway 14's four-lane expansion is considered a prime example of a roadway in need of improvements that will benefit the economy.
The program was introduced with a 7 1/2-cent gas tax hike as funding. But, Gov. Mark Dayton's opposition to a gas tax hike based on his belief that Minnesotans would not support it resulted in the tax being stripped from the House and Senate Transportation omnibus bills. The result is ironic because Dayton has become an advocate for Highway 14's completion.
Dayton said he would support alternative funding sources. He plans a six-month, statewide tour after the session to gather public opinions and suggestions that could be developed into a combination package of alternative funding sources.
The Senate version of the bill tried last week to meet Dayton halfway with a proposal that reduced the "at the pump" tax by 6 cents per gallon while introducing a 5.5 percent fuel tax on the wholesale level. The proposal would generate $220 million for the state, but opponents argue the cost would be passed on to consumer at a rate greater than the tax reduction.
Dayton said he is unlikely to support the proposal due to the potential for increasing gas prices. Hornstein said it is very unlikely the proposal will be added to the House version of the bill because it has already passed most committees and support for the proposal is not strong.
Looking for a solution
Despite the situation, Highway 14 advocates, "Corridors" supporters, Hornstein and even Dayton are optimistic that an acceptable alternative funding source will be introduced. The persistent problem with possible alternative funding sources is inconsistency and lack of readiness for public implementation.
"We still have plenty of time for somebody, maybe even [Dayton's] office, to bring a new proposal forward," said Hornstein, "I'm just as dedicated as I've been since the start to get some funding passed this session."
The Senate version of the bill will be debated in the Senate Tax committee today. The House version will go before a floor debate Wednesday.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)