The latest proposal would increase the sales tax by half a percent in the metropolitan area to pay for road construction, transit and other transportation projects. The plan would produce more than $200 million a year.
Backers include an organization representing mayors from 86 metro area cities, including Minnetonka, Oak Park Heights and Minneapolis.
At a news conference featuring about a dozen mayors, leaders of the group said congestion in the metropolitan area is growing. They worry that gridlock could increase traffic delays for residents and businesses that ship goods and services.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak says the state needs to move away from the traditional way of paying for road projects.
"What we've done in this area is say 'let's build one thing and let's have that get jammed and then we build another thing.' We need to make a comprehensive series of investments in transportation, in roads, in light rail and bus rapid transit in the backbone of the transit system and have all of it work together," he said.
This is one of several attempts to convince state lawmakers to increase funding for transportation projects. Other initiatives include a 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase, an increase to license tab fees and a wheelage tax.
Lawmakers passed a 10-cent gas tax increase in 2005 but Gov. Pawlenty vetoed the bill. He is threatening to veto the gas tax this year, too.
Sen. Dan Larson, DFL-Bloomington, says he hopes Gov. Pawlenty will accept the metro-wide sales tax measure especially since it only takes effect if voters approve the tax increase in 2008.
"We're trying to find something that will work here," he said. "We understand that we're working within some parameters based on the governor's position and the position of other members in the Legislature and that's why we're trying to take a little different approach."
Gov. Pawlenty says he's reluctant to back the sales tax increase. He says he appreciates that lawmakers have included a voter referendum but he is more worried that the sales tax is growing too large in the metropolitan area. Pawlenty says metro-area voters may be overwhelmed with sales tax proposals in 2008.
Hennepin County recently enacted a sales tax hike to pay for the bulk of a new Twins stadium. The governor says lawmakers are also talking about increasing a statewide sales tax of three-eighths of a percent that would fund programs for hunting and fishing, clean water and the arts and humanities, including public broadcasting.
"If they put that on the ballot and they put a half-cent sales tax on the ballot, I believe places like Minneapolis and St. Paul will have the highest or one of the highest sales taxes in the country," he said.
The governor has said the state can fund priority transportation projects with existing resources. He also proposes to use money from the current budget surplus to fix two of Minnesota's busiest intersections. Pawlenty wants to pay for the rest of his transportation spending plan through borrowing about $1.7 billion over the next 10 years.