Transportation talks set to resume at Capitol

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Sen. Scott Dibble, left, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, right, stressed the importance of transportation funding during a news conference. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Democrats in the Minnesota Senate are renewing their call for a “dedicated and sustainable” funding source for transportation projects.

DFL lawmakers held a news conference Monday to stress the importance of reaching a deal with House Republicans this session. Lawmakers failed to reach a deal last session, and the partisan disagreements over where to get the money haven’t been resolved.

Senate Transportation Committee Chair Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said an investment in roads, bridges and transit is long overdue.

“Ensuring that Minnesota citizens are mobile and have access to the things we all need to do every day is simply one of the most basic, fundamental public services, one of the very core functions of our government,” Dibble said. “Compounding the increasing pressure on our roads and transit infrastructure is the fact that our existing ways to pay for them are not keeping up with inflation.”

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For now, the DFL- controlled Senate is sticking with a plan that relies on increases in the gas tax, fees and the sales tax in the metropolitan area. But Dibble said the Senate might be willing to make some concessions, once negotiations resume.

“At a minimum, we need to be putting in $600 million more per year,” he said.

House Republicans oppose any tax increases. They insist on using existing sales tax revenue and surplus money to pay for road and bridge projects, and not transit.

House Transportation Committee Chair Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said he remains optimistic about reaching an agreement this year, as long as it doesn’t include a gas tax increase.

“Our plan has the funding needed,” Kelly said. “I’m looking forward to carrying our bill forward.”

Kelly said a newly reconstituted conference committee on transportation funding will begin meeting later this week.