Pawlenty vetos transportation bill

Gov. Pawlenty and Rep. Seifert
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, shown here with House Minority Leader Seifert, has vetoed a transportation funding bill that he says is too expensive for taxpayers.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Gov. Pawlenty said in his veto message that the transportation bill is "an overrreaching, massive tax increase."

Before he vetoed the bill, Pawlenty said on his weekly radio show that a gas tax increase, a metrowide sales tax increase and a license tab fee increase on new cars are too much in tough economic times.

"This bill is too large," he said. "We have families and individuals who are struggling to pay for fuel costs, to pay for health care costs, to pay for food costs and the economy is flat and declining in many ways as everybody knows nationally and yet we have a $7 billion tax increase."

Rep. Otremba
Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba of Long Prairie is one of only two DFLers in the Minnesota House to vote against a $6 billion transportation bill Thursday. Otremba said a majority of her constituents have told her they're opposed to a gas tax increase.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Knowing that his veto would not be the final round in this process, Pawlenty then urged those concerned about the bill to contact their legislators.

DFLers in both the House and Senate are expected to take the unusual step of trying to override his veto. The House failed last year to override the veto of a similar transportation funding bill. DFL House Speaker Margaret Kelliher is more optimistic this year.

"I believe we have the votes, and so in doing the math on this I think we're going to be there on Monday," she said.

In order to get the two-thirds needed for an override, Kelliher has to convince one more member to support the bill. She also has to make sure that the six Republicans who voted for the bill are committed to overriding the veto.

"I believe we have the votes, and so in doing the math on this I think we're going to be there on Monday."

Kelliher said she's confident that the two Democrats who voted against the bill will switch their votes. She also said she's confident that the six Republican supporters will continue to support it.

"Once you decide that you make that vote, you are best sticking with that vote, so I believe they'll be there," she said.

One of the Democrats who voted against the bill said she was still unsure whether she would vote to override the veto. Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba, R-Long Prairie, said she's going to go home this weekend and talk to her constituents about the bill. But she said that a majority of those constituents have told her they're opposed to a gas tax increase.

"It's been going on for awhile," she said. "The numbers are 400 and something that are against it, and there are about 100 or so for it. I'm going to go home and talk to folks."

The other Democrat who voted no, Rep. John Lesch of St. Paul, would not comment as to why he voted against the bill, or if he would vote to override the veto.

House and Senate leaders have said that this is the only transportation funding bill that lawmakers will consider this session.

Speaker and Lesch
DFL House Speaker Margaret Kelliher talks with Rep. John Lesch of St. Paul Thursday evening after the House approved a $6 billion transportation funding package. Lesch was one of only two House DFLers to vote against the bill.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

The bill includes a nickel a gallon gas tax increase and a three-and-a-half cent per gallon gas surcharge to pay for road construction debt. That surcharge will fall as debt is paid off.

The bill also includes a metrowide sales tax increase of a quarter of a percent that goes for transit projects and an increase in license tab fees on new cars.

Phil Krinkie, president of the The Taxpayers League of Minnesota, said his group is working to convince every Republican House member to vote against the override.

But in an e-mail to its members, the group is singling out Reps. Kathy Tinglestad and Jim Abeler because they voted for the transportation bill last session but did not vote to override the veto.

"Our intent is to help get the word out, to help people understand what these tax increases are," Kinkie said. "What the long-term ramifications and impact on the Minnesota economy may be."

Groups that support the bill are also ramping up their efforts. The environmental advocacy group, Fresh Energy, says it will run radio ads this weekend urging lawmakers to support the override.

Rep. Abeler said he's getting plenty of calls from both supporters and opponents. He said he hasn't made up his mind and will continue to listen to his constituents.

"My life would be much easier if I told you on the phone today that I'm not going to support the override for sure, and going to behave and sit quietly and wait for the next deal to come along, probably when gas is $4 and a bridge has fallen down, another one," he said. "That would be better for politics."

But Abeler said he's concerned that there are no viable alternatives being proposed. He said he's giving his callers a homework assignment. He wants them to call him back when they can provide a significant transportation funding plan that will repair the state's bridges, maintain the roads and expand transit.