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Partisan differences remain on Minnesota road funding

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Gov. Mark Dayton spoke in Rogers during a celebration of the recent I-94 expansion. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and several Republican legislators were in Rogers, Minn., Tuesday for an event celebrating the recent expansion of a segment of Interstate 94.

In public remarks, they highlighted their shared support for needed road improvements throughout Minnesota rather than their lingering disagreement over how to pay for a transportation funding package.

Dayton said the I-94 expansion was the result of strong bipartisan effort.

“If we can expand this program in the next Legislative session, we’ll have even more of these kinds of groundbreakings and exciting expansion announcements,” Dayton said.

The $28.3 million highway project, which is part of the state’s “Corridors of Commerce” program, added new lanes and ramps between Rogers and St. Michael, Minn. The event was held outside a new FedEx Ground facility, which was built in Rogers after the I-94 improvements began.

House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, noted the connection between the two projects.

“Without a good transportation system, we aren’t able to have jobs and facilities like this,” Peppin said.

But Peppin and Dayton still don’t agree on how to fund future transportation projects. House Republicans oppose the gas tax increases that Dayton and Senate Democrats insist are needed for a long-term funding solution. Lawmakers failed to reach agreement last session on a transportation bill and said it would be a priority for the 2016 session.

Peppin said after the event that her caucus will continue to push for using of existing revenues generated from auto parts sales and car rentals.

“We believe we can get it done without using a gas tax,” she said.

Dayton said new revenue is needed to keep up with the growing demand for transportation improvements, and he’ll willing to look at several options.

“I’m flexible on how we achieve that, as long as we aren’t diverting money from the general fund on a permanent basis,” he said.