The transportation committee chairs in the Minnesota Senate and House said Friday they are confident they can get a comprehensive funding bill passed in the next session, though both still disagree on how to get there.
“I could give you a one-word answer to our question and that’s yes – we will have a transportation bill this year,” state Rep Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said at a TwinWest Chamber of Commerce discussion in St. Louis Park. “I believe Sen. Dibble and myself are on the same page there.”
Even so, the two maintained the positions they held last session. Scott Dibble, a DFLer from Minneapolis, still thinks a tax is needed, while Kelly says funds are already available but need to be reallocated toward transportation.
Last session ended with a “lights on” transportation bill, which covered basic maintenance needs, rail safety and maintaining transportation status quo across the state.
When Dibble pushed for transportation to be considered for the special session earlier this year, he released a compromise plan, which dropped a contentious proposed 6.5 percent wholesale fuel tax in favor of a 10-cent gas tax increase. The plan also offered measures favored by Republicans, including dedicating the sales tax on auto parts to roads and bridges.
One piece the two sides still disagree on is the use of general funds for transportation costs. Dibble said those funds should be used for one-time investments, like building bridges. Kelly sees the fund as a source of ongoing funding for transportation. But there is room for compromise, Dibble said.
“[The compromise bill] might give you a clue … that we’re open to discussion around what the general fund really means, what a dedicated, reliable, sustained, ongoing basis really means,” he said.
Time was a major constraint in reaching an agreement last session, Dibble and Kelly agreed Friday. The upcoming session, which starts March 8, is a condensed one, lasting until May. Despite the shortened timeframe, Kelly said he is confident the two will have enough time to reach an agreement.
“Sen. Dibble and myself, we’ve committed for us to have plenty of conversation and we’ve already had some of those over the fall here,” Kelly said. “I don’t think it will work if we don’t continue that — March to May is not enough time.”
It will be especially critical to pass a transportation bill this time around, Dibble said. If not passed now, a comprehensive transportation bill could be overlooked in lieu of other important topics like education, health care and safety during the upcoming election year.
In addition, several projects in the pipeline are waiting on funding from the state to move forward. The Southwest Light Rail Transit project, which will run from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, is seeking a total of $144 million from the state to move forward on the $1.65 billion project.
“We all … believe that comprehensive transportation is past due and it’s time to get it done,” Dibble said. “I hope it doesn’t become simply another thing that we lock up on and turn into some sort of partisan volleyball game and project it into the elections.”