By BRIAN BAKST
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- In a sudden shift Friday, the Minnesota Senate revived the possibility of raising the gas tax for roadwork and a metropolitan area sales tax for mass transit projects by making over what had been a stand-pat transportation finance plan.
The revision came in a surprise amendment that would raise the gas tax by 5 cents over four years and impose an extra half-cent sales tax in the Twin Cities area over the same time span.
The two taxes would raise about $1 billion combined, money that supporters say are needed to handle a backlog of road and bridge work around the state and expand transit options.
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"Failing to fund transportation doesn't make the problem go away, it just keeps getting more expensive," said freshman Sen. Melissa Franzen, DFL-Edina. "This is how we pay for things."
The change embraced by Democratic caucus leadership was adopted on a 34-26 vote. Debate continued Friday on the underlying bill, but Democrats were confident they had the votes to pass it. No Republicans voted in the amendment's favor.
Legislative Democrats had retreated from a gas tax increase after Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton publicly balked at it. His spokesman, Bob Hume, said Friday evening that the governor has not changed his stance in opposition to a gas tax increase.
Dayton does support the sales tax, which would be assessed in the Senate bill at the rate of a quarter-percent the next two years and another quarter-percent the following two years. He has urged transportation advocates to regroup and make another push in the 2014 session.
The House has passed a transportation plan without any tax increases. The Senate version now heads back the House, which can choose to adopt it or send it to a conference committee.
Republicans cried foul over what they saw as a backroom deal sprung on them.
"This is tax policy hokey-pokey," said Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound.