Local Republicans split on transportation

WILLMAR -- Sen. Joe Gimse said he wants a transportation bill "in the worst way" but, in light of a looming state budget deficit, voted against the $6.6 billion transportation bill.

WILLMAR -- Sen. Joe Gimse said he wants a transportation bill "in the worst way" but, in light of a looming state budget deficit, voted against the $6.6 billion transportation bill.

The bill was approved Thursday in the House and Senate on a bipartisan vote, but vetoed on Friday by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

All area DFL legislators voted for the 10-year transportation package, which would generate new revenue by raising the gas tax and other fees for the state transportation system.

Area Republican legislators were split, however.

Besides Gimse, Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, also voted against the bill.


A veto override is certain in the Senate, but the votes are too close to call in the House where an override could depend on area Republicans.

Urdahl said he's being pulled in different directions by local government officials, taxpayers and his own party in how he should vote on the veto override, which could come as early as Monday.

"It's like a chess match," he said.

Sounding weary from the ordeal, Urdahl said in a telephone interview Friday that he's been told if he doesn't vote to override, a funding request for Litchfield's wastewater treatment facility could be blocked. The project is crucial for an expansion of the First District Association, a dairy processing plant in Litchfield.

"Certainly I'm being lobbied, threatened. All sorts of neat things," Urdahl said.

At this point, Urdahl said he intends to "support the governor" but "will continue to talk to people about the issue" over the weekend and will review amendments made to the bill.

Two area Republican lawmakers, Sen. Steve Dille of Dassel and Rep. Bud Heidgerken, of Freeport, voted for the transportation bill.

Dille had said earlier that he would vote to override the governor's veto.


Heidgerken said last-minute amendments helped him step away from his party and vote for the bill on Thursday.

"The bill itself has really got a rural flavor to it," said Heidgerken, with changes in the funding formula that will help rural communities. He's also glad that a wheelage tax and indexing were removed. He called the gas tax more of a "user fee" than a real tax.

He was quick to add, however, he has made no commitment on how he'll vote in the next step of the process. "I don't know where I sit on the override."

Heidgerken said the "phone's been ringing off the hook" and he has been feeling pressure from people who have different ideas about how he should vote on the override attempt.

"I've been pushing my party pretty hard, but they've been pushing hard too," said Heidgerken. "I've got to do what I've got to do."

Urdahl said the "government-type" people and those in the road construction business are telling him to override the veto while the "regular working guy taxpayer" doesn't want to pay a higher gas tax and would rather pay higher property taxes to deal with transportation.

"In the end, we're trying to do the right thing," said Urdahl.

Gimse said he's angered that the bill was pushed quickly through the Legislature by Democrats. He said they should have waited until Thursday's budget forecast before putting the transportation bill on the table.


With predictions that the state deficit will be around $1 billion, Gimse said he "couldn't support a bunch of taxes" this year when the economy is in such tough shape. He voted for the gas tax increase last year when the state had a surplus, he said.

Gimse said the Democrats failed to negotiate with the governor and Republicans in the Legislature to find money for transportation by trimming state spending elsewhere. He said it's possible to craft a reasonable bill that legislators can agree to and the governor will sign.

He said he's heard a rumor that another transportation bill is already in the works.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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