House Republicans take public testimony and put finishing touches today and tomorrow on a bill to increase state spending on roads and bridges 385 million dollars — 100 million of that coming from the General Fund. Governor Mark Dayton says, “As long as we have budget surpluses, which we have, there’s no downside” — except Dayton says there would be less money available to increase funding for other programs like child care. House Republicans’ transportation point man, Hanska Representative Paul Torkelson’s reaction: “He [Dayton] sounded a little even more optimistic than he was last year. I’m optimistic. I think some transportation funding is the appropriate thing to do.”
One possible sticking point: House Republicans have refused the governor’s request for an additional 30-plus million dollars to help fix the state’s troubled vehicle registration system, MN-LARS. Torkelson says, “I’m at the point where I’m not convinced that we can fix this. Until I am convinced that it can be fixed, I am not ready to authorize any more MNLARS spending.” Dayton has said he accepts reponsibility for the problems but Republicans now must join him in the solution.
In related news, Torkelson introduces a bill today that would allow voters to decide this fall whether sales taxes on auto repairs and auto parts should be constitutionally dedicated to roads and bridges. Governor Dayton says he’s conflicted about a constitutional amendment, which would provide more money for transportation but “sooner or later there’s gonna be another national economic downturn, and we’re gonna be on the knife’s edge with the existing General Fund budget, and that’s when the crunch will occur.” Torkelson responds transportation funding must be a priority: “Transportation is required to deliver all of the goods and services that keeps this state operating in good times and in bad.”
The legislature can put the question on the ballot this fall without the governor’s signature.
More in this excerpt from Gov. Dayton’s Tuesday news conference:
And in this interview with Rep. Torkelson: