Dayton road plan: $10 billion over 10 years

Gov. Mark Dayton outlines his ten year transportation plan. Tom Scheck/MPR News

Gov. Mark Dayton says Minnesota will fall behind economically and demographically if legislators don't approve his sweeping transportation revenue package.

"The conditions of Minnesota's highways, roads and bridges is getting worse. The congestion and travel days around Minnesota is getting worse. Highway safety is getting worse," Dayton said.

Dayton would put more than $10 billion into roads, bridges and transit over 10 years to tackle the problem, according to the plan he detailed today.

Dayton says the state is facing a revenue shortfall to the tune of $6 billion for road and bridge repair and expansions over the next decade. His plan would raise tab fees and put a 6.5 percent gross receipts tax on gas on top of the current per gallon tax to help close that gap. The new levy would be applied to $2.50 per gallon gas even if gas prices dropped below that number.

Dayton's plan would also raise about $2.3 billion for local government roads and increase a metro-area sales tax by half-a-cent for transit projects in the Twin Cities area. An additional $120 million from the state's general fund would be set aside for greater Minnesota transit.

Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said he based the $6 billion in spending on roads and bridges on a 2012 report by the Transportation Finance Advisory Committee, which is composed of elected officials, business and labor leaders.

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"After careful analysis, 100 percent were in agreement that if we ignore this problem, we'll leave a legacy of poor and crumbling transportation for future generations," Zelle said.

Republicans, however, note that there was disagreement over the mission of the committee and whether its job was to outline the transportation needs of the state.

"Need is a political term," said former state Rep. Mike Beard of Shakopee. "The 'unmet need,' when people say that, hang on to your wallets because it’s the definition of whatever gets somebody elected."

Beard, who chaired the House Transportation Committee in 2011 and 2012, said he thought the commission members were going to propose a lower figure for transportation needs until it was clear Republicans were going to lose control of the Legislature after the 2012 election. He said other members of the committee then pushed for more road and bridge construction and transit spending.

"We were going to come out with a little more manageable description of the problem until it was clear that we were no longer going to be the chairs and Republicans were not going to control the House and Senate and it was going to be all Democrats everywhere all the time," said Beard, who also was a member of the Transportation Finance Advisory Committee. "And that's when I think the lid came off."

Beard, who retired from the Legislature last year and now serves as a Scott County Commissioner, said he thinks road and bridge construction could be done for a third of the $6 billion estimate.

Another member of the transportation committee, former Republican Sen. Joe Gimse of Willmar, said it wasn't the committee's main job to figure out the transportation needs of the state. Instead, Gimse said its goal was to find new ways to finance the system outside of hiking the gas tax and license tab fees.

"I don't think it met the original intent or even came close to meeting the original intent of finding alternative ways of financing transportation," Gimse said. "We're right back to the traditional, and that's disappointing to me.”

Zelle, who served on the committee prior to becoming transportation commissioner, disputes the allegations that anybody inflated the numbers.

"I actually thought that most numbers were done toward the summer and early fall and the election was in November," he said. "I didn't think it was that clear in my mind."

Dayton's plan is slightly different from a proposal introduced earlier this month by Democrats in the Minnesota Senate, but vastly different from a four-year, $750 million House Republican plan that excludes transit funding and relies largely on money the transportation department already has access to.

"We're just talking off of two different planets, right now," Dayton said. He argues that the Republican plan doesn't go nearly far enough to fix the state's roads.

For his part, House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said he has many questions about Dayton's tax plan, particularly how much more people would pay and who it would affect most.

He said the Legislature needs more time to figure out exactly how much money the state really needs for its roads, bridges and transit.

"The sooner we can all get on the same page and reach agreement of what the number is, we can get to solving the problem," Kelly said.

Below are fact sheets and maps released by Dayton's office showing locations of the state's most pressing projects.

MPR News Reporter Catharine Richert contributed to this story.