Chatter: Transportation Funding May Be On The Move

Transportation funding is confusing and controversial, and Minnesota state leaders say vital.

Democrats and Republicans have remained so far apart on the issue for years that little has been done to plug what is called an $18 billion gap between current spending and what is needed over the next decade.

The past week may or may not have clarified the situation.

On Tuesday, April 18, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he knows the Republican-controlled Legislature will not pass a dime-a-gallon gasoline tax increase he wants. So, he told WCCO radio he will accept the GOP plan to spend on roads sales tax collected on vehicle-related items such as car parts.

On Wednesday, his transportation commissioner said the governor did not mean he was giving up. At any rate, Commissioner Charlie Zelle said, he would strongly recommend against caving in to Republican plans.

On Thursday when Dayton met with reporters, Forum News Service asked him to clarify his stance. After saying what a good deal a gasoline tax increase would be, he said repeated what he said on the radio that he would be forced to go along with Republicans.

The GOP picked up on his comments and said they will move ahead thinking that is the plan.

“Funding transportation is the area where I am the most optimistic,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said that with Dayton’s comments, a transportation funding agreement is close.

Funding Twin Cities bus transit programs remains to be solved, Gazelka said.

House Transportation Chairman Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said that he all along planned to add funding for bus transit, although neither the House nor the Senate do much on that.

“There are lots of issues within this bill that need to be negotiated out and transit is one that comes to mind,” Torkelson said.

Earmarking funds is another difference.

Senators’ transportation legislation sets aside money for various highway projects, something Dayton strongly opposes and that is not seen in the House bill.

Rep. Clark Johnson, D-North Mankato, long has fought to get funding for U.S. 14 improvements across southern Minnesota. At the same time, he opposed earmarks.

“On the other hand,” Johnson said, “if there is earmarking, Highway 14 had better be in there.”

Opioid help granted

Minnesota will get $5.4 million to fight opioid addiction.

The announcement came Friday, April 21, the first anniversary of singer Prince’s death due to opioids.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., worked on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that provided the federal funds.

“As I’ve traveled across Minnesota, I’ve heard time and again how opioid addiction is tearing apart communities and destroying lives,” Klobuchar said. “That’s why I’m proud that landmark legislation that I led with three other senators was passed to help combat this epidemic and make $1 billion in funding available. This grant will provide families across our state with the resources they need to prevent addiction and get access to life-saving treatment and recovery services.”

Opioid abuse is considered one of the chief public health problems in the country. The pain killers can be addictive, and those hooked often shop for doctors to provide prescriptions. State and federal lawmakers are passing legislation, and are considering more, to limit opioid use.

Water meetings planned

Dayton plans a series of water quality town hall meetings this summer.

Clean water has been one of the governor’s goals in his second term, and the meetings are an extension of his work on the issue.

“All Minnesotans have a stake in water that’s safe for drinking, swimming and fishing,” Dayton said. “These town hall meetings will further the important conversations already happening across Minnesota around water quality.”

He plans to use information gathered in the 10 meetings to find new ways to clean the state’s water.

The list of meetings is at www.eqb.state.mn.us/25by25.

Bonding bill coming

Minnesota has done without public works funding legislation, known as a bonding bill, for two years, but Daudt said the drought is about to end.

“We in the House are likely to release a bonding bill in the next week or so,” he said Thursday, admitting it is an important way “of maintaining our assets. … We certainly know how important a bonding bill is.”

The Senate bonding committee has approved a bill, but Chairman Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said it could be changed before reaching a full Senate vote. Dayton early this year offered his bonding plan.

Bonding advocates have said they fear the 2017 legislative could end without a bonding bill.