Minnesota became the seventh state to fail to pass a fuel-tax increase this year as its legislative session ended at midnight May 22 with no agreement on a long-awaited major transportation funding package despite the state’s $900 million budget surplus.
The Republican-controlled House, which favored shifting money from general revenues to fund transportation, and the Democratic-controlled Senate, which wanted to raise fuel taxes 12 cents per gallon over three years, couldn’t even concur on a short-term funding bill, let alone the $600 million annual package for which they were aiming.
As adjournment approached, the House passed a bill that included $181 million for state roads and bridges, but the Senate added light rail funding and the House had gaveled to a close before considering that amendment.
“It’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing because we were told over and over that this was the year that legislators were going to address transportation and that there was a fair amount of agreement between the House and Senate right up to the last day,” lamented Margaret Donahoe, executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance. “They certainly had plenty of time to figure out a path considering conversations started last session, [but] election considerations trumped everything.”
Minnesota’s Department of Transportation has identified a funding shortfall in excess of $16 billion over the next 20 years.
Donahoe said that Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Tim Kelly, chairmen of the respective transportation committees in their chambers, forged a compromise but couldn’t get their caucuses to follow suit. The GOP agreed to raise license fees but wouldn’t allow counties in the Twin Cities area to impose a one-quarter-cent sales tax for transit even though it wouldn’t have affected residents elsewhere in Minnesota.
“To watch everything fall apart was incredible,” Donahoe said. “It’s a big problem for infrastructure all over the state. A lot of problems won’t get fixed, and the cost of all of these projects will increase. A lot of projects that communities are waiting for won’t get done.”
Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat who had given up hope for a fuel-tax increase last week, has given no indication that he would call lawmakers back to St. Paul for a special session to try to pass a transportation funding measure. Such a session was held in 2015 after Dayton vetoed several pieces of budget legislation.
Minnesota followed Alabama, Hawaii, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri and West Virginia in failing to approve proposed fuel-tax increases this year, leaving Alaska, California and New Jersey as possibilities to do so. South Carolina’s Legislature is in session until June 2 but has agreed that fuel taxes won’t be hiked. Sixteen states passed such increases from 2013 to 2015.