Dayton walks back from gas sales tax

Turns out DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is not fully on board with a gasoline sales tax after all.

Dayton said during a debate in Moorhead last night that he will make a “specific proposal that will include a sales tax on gasoline” next year, if he’s re-elected. The statement stood out as a significantly more definitive level of support for the revenue source than any previous comments he's made on transportation funding.

But today, Dayton and his campaign were backtracking.

“The question asked for a specific, and I didn’t phrase my response very well,” Dayton said during a news conference today on an unrelated topic.

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Dayton told reporters that he has not changed his position and is still open to several funding options. Dayton said he does not support an increase in the state's existing gas tax, but he said a sales tax on gas at the wholesale level is one of the cards that should be on the table.

“I’m not wedded to any particular strategy or any particular idea, and I’d like to see and hear what others have to say,” he said.

The campaign of Dayton’s Republican challenger, Jeff Johnson, issued a statement blasting the reversal and suggesting the governor is not in charge of his own administration. Johnson has said he would address the state’s transportation needs with existing revenues, but he has not provided specifics of how much he intends to spend and where he would get the money.

Transportation advocates have been pushing the sales tax idea for months as a way to help the state keep up with a growing backlog of road and bridge projects. The coalition Move MN proposed a 5 percent sales tax on wholesale fuel back in February as part of a broad package of transportation funding recommendations. The group estimated the tax would generate more than $360 million per year.

The chairs of the House and Senate transportation committees, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, also embraced the tax. They introduced legislation last session that did not receive final votes.

“We’re seeing this happen more and more across the country, as people realize the gas tax is not getting the job done.” Hornstein said. “I’m encouraged that the governor is moving in this direction.”

Under the bill, the tax would be imposed on “gross receipts derived by a distributor” from the first sale at the wholesale level.