As legislators hash out the final details of a transportation funding plan, some regional chambers of commerce are asking legislative leaders to approve a revenue increase to fund road and bridge construction.
"Investment in transportation is critical to Minnesota’s competitiveness, so we also support an increase in revenue that allows us to properly plan and build a transportation system that will ensure regional competitiveness, vitality and economic growth in our state," wrote officials from six regional chambers of commerce.
The letter doesn't call directly for a gas tax increase backed by Gov. Mark Dayton and DFLers to pay for projects over the next 10 years.
But the views expressed in the letter are a nuanced departure from a view held for months by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which has lobbied against a new gas tax.
The chamber suggested early in the debate that transportation investments come from the state's general fund or from what amounts to a property tax increase on property owners who benefit most from new transportation projects.
Minnesota Chamber of Commerce transportation policy director Bentley Graves said he doesn't think the regional chamber groups have departed from the state group's policy.
"I would say it’s not all that different from our view," Graves said. "We ought to have a substantial transportation bill that includes new revenue."
While the Dayton administration argues that the current gas tax isn't keeping up with road construction costs because people are buying less gas, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has said that the projected $6 billion in new revenue needed by the state is overstated by millions.
A spokesman for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce was not immediately available for comment on the letter.
The letter comes at a critical time in negotiations. The House and Senate versions of the bill are far apart, with the Republican-controlled House relying on existing revenue sources to pay for roads and bridges as part of a $7 billion funding proposal and the Senate version including a minimum 16 cent increase in the gas tax as part of a more than $10 billion proposal that includes funding for transit.
The letter's signatories include regional chambers from the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota, including the St. Paul and Minneapolis chambers of commerce, as well as the Mankato, Duluth and Marshall chambers of commerce.
The New Ulm Chamber of Commerce signed the letter after it was sent to House and Senate leaders on May 5.
You can read the letter here: