Legislature passes road bill

ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans would pay more in taxes for improved roads and bridges in a $6.6 billion transportation funding package the Legislature passed Thursday and sent to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who promises to veto it.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans would pay more in taxes for improved roads and bridges in a $6.6 billion transportation funding package the Legislature passed Thursday and sent to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who promises to veto it.

Supporters of the bill framed it as a dramatic compromise and the result of nearly two-dozen concessions made over the past few days.

They said it addresses road needs in all areas of the state, provides new money for bridge improvements and pays for bus and rail expansion.

Projects that will benefit from the 10-year package are paid for with gasoline and sales tax increases, license tab hikes and state borrowing.

Rep. Bernie Lieder, a Crookston DFL'er who authored the bill, dismissed opponents' claims the bill was too big and cost Minnesota taxpayers too much.


"I challenge anybody to put a better bill together," said Lieder, a former county highway engineer.

After a seven-hour debate, the Minnesota House voted 89-44 for the bill, one vote shy of the 90 needed to override Pawlenty's expected veto.

The bill calls for a nickel-per-gallon increase to the gasoline tax, to be phased in yet this year. The tax would increase up to another 3.5 cents in coming years to repay state borrowing. The bill also would raise some license tab fees on new vehicles.

Senate Transportation Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said the bill will cost Minnesotans, but it also will result in safer roads and spur job growth.

Senators approved the measure 47-20 late Thursday night, and Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in that chamber.

Pawlenty will veto the bill, his spokesman said, but the timing remains in question.

The governor leaves today for a National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C. He is the organization's chairman and its business and other speeches will keep him in the nation's capital until mid-day Tuesday, spokesman Brian McClung said.

Pawlenty has three days to sign or veto the bill, not including Sunday or the day he receives it. When the bill will land in his office is unknown.


House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said that chamber will attempt to override Pawlenty's veto as soon as it can. The full House meets again on Monday.

"This time, I believe there is sufficient bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate to override the Governor's veto," said Rep. Aaron Peterson, backing up Sertich. "We will provide Minnesotans with the leadership they have been asking for on our state's ongoing transportation crisis."

Republicans criticized how quickly Democrats rushed the package through its final votes, saying they did not have adequate time to review the bill.

If it becomes law, the measure would mark the first major influx of transportation spending by way of tax increases in about 20 years. The state's gasoline tax -- 20 cents a gallon -- was last increased in 1988.

Some greater Minnesota lawmakers faulted the proposal because their constituents could see a higher sales tax than would Twin Cities-area residents.

"This is still not a good amendment for rural Minnesota," said Republican Rep. Dean Urdahl of Grove City.

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, however, referred to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse last year during the House floor debate, and said the 13 worst state bridges could be replaced with funding provided in the bill.

"We haven't lifted a finger yet for bridges in this state and it's time we did," Juhnke said.


The 13 worst state bridges could be replaced using funding in the bill, he said.

The plan also would create jobs, Juhnke said.

"One way or another, we need this bill to pass," said Rep. Al Juhnke, D-Willmar. "We can't allow our system to deteriorate any further. I hope there will be enough Republican members willing to put the state's interest ahead of the governor's national ambitions."

The gas tax increase is not burdensome, he said, because it would rise just $41.75 a year for the average family.

Capitol Correspondent Don Davis contributed to this article

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