Lawmakers take another look at the proposed transportation amendment
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota voters will likely decide in November whether to constitutionally dedicate certain funds to transportation projects. It's how that money gets divided between highways and transit that has lawmakers reviewing the proposed bal...
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota voters will likely decide in November whether to constitutionally dedicate certain funds to transportation projects.
It's how that money gets divided between highways and transit that has lawmakers reviewing the proposed ballot measure.
In 2005, legislators passed a proposed constitutional amendment to dedicate all of the state's motor vehicle sales tax revenue to transportation. The proposal called for at least 40 percent of the funding to go toward transit, while the remaining portion would be used for roads and highways.
However, some rural legislators are leading an effort to change the amendment language to guarantee that highways and roads receive 60 percent of the funds and cap transit's allotment at 40 percent.
"We were sold that it's 60-40," Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said Tuesday of the highway-transit funding split. "It's not."
Sen. Rod Skoe, who sponsored the revision, said that without changes the amendment would fail at the polls because many in Greater Minnesota are concerned the money meant for highway improvements will eventually be taken to pay for bus and rail projects.
"If we want this to pass, we are going to need to broaden support from across the state," Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, told the Senate Transportation Committee. The panel approved the measure 11-5.
The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities pushed for the change. Tom Kuntz, Owatonna's mayor, works with the coalition and told senators that highway funding has been short-changed in recent years. The coalition will lobby against the proposed amendment if it's not changed, he said.
Others lobbied the Senate panel to leave the proposed amendment as written, arguing that transit needs are growing and more dedicated funding might be needed in the future.
The motor vehicle sales tax generated more than $550 million in 2005. An estimated $309 million went to highway and transit funding. The remaining portion went to the state's general fund, which lawmakers use for many non-transportation programs.
The transportation committee's chairman, Sen. Steve Murphy, was among those who voted against the change. Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said later that his was a vote of "protest" because it doesn't appear the Legislature will secure any other major funding for transportation projects this year.
"If this is what we've got, then we should go ahead and do it," Murphy said of the amendment.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said Tuesday that he supports the proposed change and predicted the bill would pass in the House.