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Walz signals willingness to deal on transportation

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Gov. Tim Walz speaks during his State of the State address.
Gov. Tim Walz delivers his State of the State address inside the House Chambers at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul on Wednesday. In an interview on MPR News Friday, Gov. Walz said he's open to negotiate on his plan to raise the gas tax by 20 cents per gallon.
Renee Jones Schneider | Star Tribune via AP

Gov. Tim Walz said Friday he's willing to shave the size of his proposed gas tax increase or implement it more slowly if that helps transportation funding advance.

In an interview on MPR News, the DFL governor said his preference is to keep the increase at 20 cents per gallon to phase in over two years. But he said he's aiming for a compromise.

"You're going to get less. We're not going to get everything that we need to get done," Walz said. "But if Minnesotans say we're not willing to do 20 but we're willing to do part of that. That will come at a cost."

After the governor's State of the State address this week, House Speaker Melissa Hortman emphasized that the House transportation plan would increase the per-gallon gas tax more slowly. She said the amount and timetable are negotiable.

Republicans in control of the Minnesota Senate say transportation money can come from dedicating the sales tax on auto-related purchases to the general fund, as has been done the past two years.

Walz contends that takes available money from other programs, and that the funding isn't as reliable as the gas tax, which is dedicated in the Minnesota constitution to roads and bridges.

"We can make a decision on the amount," Walz said. "I simply laid out a plan that the experts believe this is what will make a modern transportation system."

Walz said he will demand that the gas tax be tied in the future to inflation, so the buying power of the key road construction funding source doesn't suffer.

Minnesota lawmakers last voted to raise the gas tax in 2008. That vote increased the tax by eight-and-a-half cents over four years.

With the Minnesota Legislature past the halfway point, Walz said it's incumbent on him and lawmakers to deliver results within the time they're allowed.

There are big differences in approach to a new state budget, long-term transportation funding and much more with six weeks left. Adopting a new two-year budget is the only must-do for the Legislature.

Walz said on MPR News that voters are banking on much more.

"A status quo or a grind-to-the-end or a special session or a shutdown just reconfirms all your listeners and Minnesotans belief that this democracy is not working right."

He said it's important to end by May 20, the constitutionally required adjournment. But lawmakers have often resorted to special sessions to complete their work.

Minnesota has the only state legislature in the country where two chambers are controlled by different parties.