House GOP makes new transportation offer

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House Speaker Kurt Daudt explains a new transportation funding proposal during a news conference. Tim Pugmire|MPR News.

Minnesota House Republicans offered a new plan on transportation funding Tuesday that combines elements of their original bill with elements that Gov. Mark Dayton proposed just a day ago.

Their latest proposal uses $300 million a year in general fund revenue, $200 million a year in bonding and $100 million a year in license tab fees.

There is no gas tax increase.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, criticized Dayton’s use of tab fees as a tax increase. But in a news conference, Daudt described the increase in the GOP offer as “user fees.”

Daudt also explained that the House offer does not include any money for transit.

“Let’s see if we can get to agreement on the road and bridge piece first,” Daudt said. “I think that’s everyone’s number one priority. If we can get that accomplished, then let’s work on the transit. So, we’re suggesting that those be separated.”

Democrats were not impressed.

Gov. Mark Dayton said the House proposal provides only $400 million in new revenue. He said Republicans need to propose an alternative for the transit they oppose.

“It’s one thing to say no to this and play it for political advantage, but if you’re in the majority as they are then they have a responsibility to co-govern," Dayton said. "This bill has unfortunately become more about next November’s election than it has about the future of Minnesota.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he was disappointed that the House plan didn’t include transit funding. He said transit, including money for Southwest light rail, must be part of a transportation bill.

“It’s not an investment for this generation. It’s an investment for the next one," Bakk said. "If you think of how this metropolitan area here is going to grow, there’s just no way we can build the kind of highway and parking capacity that’s going to be needed in this metropolitan area going forward. We’ve got to find smarter and more efficient ways to move people.”

Bakk said transportation might have to be set aside this week so negotiations can instead focus on a supplemental budget bill, tax bill and a bonding bill.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, offered a mostly negative review of the plan.

“While it is encouraging that House Republicans are finally acknowledging that new revenue is needed, their latest offer still relies heavily on the general fund, pitting future funding for our schools against roads and bridges,” Thissen said. “It is discouraging that Republicans stubbornly refuse to invest even a penny in transit, despite calls from business and community leaders that recognize transit must be part of any statewide solution.”

House Republicans also proposed budget targets for the governor and Senate Democrats to consider.

They want $450 million in tax cuts, only $65 million in non-transportation supplemental spending and $65 million left unspent. They’ve allocated $20 million for debt service on a bonding bill.

House Republicans say they are now willing to support a $800 million bonding bill, up from their earlier $600 million target. They plan to release a bonding proposal Wednesday.