The bill provides $747 million of new revenue for Minnesota’s transportation system. Of the $300 million shifted from the general fund in 2018, only about $204 million of this goes to roads. The remaining $96 million is used on other priorities in the biennium. This money, as shown throughout the negotiations process with the moving target numbers, is not a reliable source of funding. The shift can be taken away easily during any budget crunch. The amount of road funding is inadequate to meet the needs that both DFLers and Republicans agree upon – $400 million a year to maintain our current assets and $200 million to make strategic improvements; $600 million total a year is needed to meet the needs of our state. The bill allocates $70 million to the Met Council for FY2018-19, which leaves the agency with a $15 million funding gap. This will likely mean cuts to service or fare increases in order to make up for the lack of funding. Unfortunately, this bill does not do anything for the agency and its forecasted $110M budget hole in the next biennium.
There is $940 million in bonding to help supplement the general fund shift. These will go to road projects around the country. One issue with the bonds is that they are dependent on revenues not dedicated to transportation. If there is a budget crisis and the next legislature claws back the general fund shift, these bonds will not be used. MnDOT has a policy that will not allow debt payments to exceed 20% of revenues. This may lead to the department not issuing the bonds, leaving the bill’s ability to fund transportation projects more inadequate. (H.F. 3)
Other notable provisions include:
- A new $75 fee on electric vehicle purchases
- Increased truck weight permits for road construction materials and mining truck tires
- A provision that takes away the 50% operating subsidy for Southwest Light Rail
- Names a portion of Hwy. 52 the “Sen. Jim Metzen Memorial Highway”
- Requires MnDOT to implement 15% efficiencies above their appropriation for the biennium
The Legislature passed a neutral REAL ID bill that will allow Minnesotans to board domestic flights without needing additional documents like a passport. Minnesotans were coming down to crunch time as the next compliance deadline was January 2018. Thanks to the hard work of the Senate DFL, there is no unnecessary immigration policy included in the bill. The department will have to begin issuing REAL IDs by October 2018. (HF3)
Ditch Mowing Reform
A bill that places a moratorium on MnDOT’s authority to set up a permitting process allowing farmers to mow and bale hay in highway rights-of-way under the department’s authority passed the Senate. The moratorium is in effect until April 30, 2018. The moratorium is meant to give stakeholders time to work out a mutually agreeable system for the future.
This issue has been controversial at the Legislature over the past few years. The issue gained new urgency when late last year MnDOT announced a new permitting system and uniform rules to follow. This has led to many farmers being upset with what are seen as new restrictions on their ability to mow and hay rights-of-way. The law restrictions on the seasonality of mowing and baling have been on the books since the 1980s, but the laws were not being followed by farmers or enforced by the department. (SF 218)
Law Enforcement Memorial License Plates
The Legislature passed a bill creating law enforcement memorial license plates. The additional proceeds from the plates will go to the Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association. (HF 678)
MnDOT Project Selection
There were three bills heard in the Transportation Committee that would require MnDOT to increase transparency on how the department selects which projects it completes. The bills generally require that the department, in consultation with relevant agency stakeholders, develop, adopt, and implement best practices for project evaluation and selection processes. The commissioner must publicize the process criteria so the public can better understand and compare the selected projects to those that were not funded.
The bills are in response to complaints over the years of a lack of transparency in how MnDOT selects its projects. The Office of Legislative Auditor released a report in 2016 about the department’s highway project selection. Some key recommendations were that MnDOT should increase the transparency of its decision-making process, particularly by providing information to enable comparisons between projects that are selected and those that are not. (SFs 1524, 1525, 1076)
Transportation Bills that Did Not Become Law
VETOED: Transportation Budget
Governor Dayton maintained his position and asked legislators to come to him with an adequate funding proposal that would address the rising costs of roads, bridges, and transit. Unfortunately, the Republican bill fell far short of this. Republicans and DFLers alike agreed that just to maintain the state’s current roads we need $400 million a year, and an additional $200 million a year for to make strategic improvements and expansions. The Republican plans provided just $75 million in new revenue to state roads and bridges. This is enough to pave 37.5 miles of pavement in greater Minnesota.
There is also a need for $300 million a year in ongoing dedicated transit funding, which was not addressed at all in the budget passed by the Republicans. In fact, under the bill that passed the Legislature, there would be a $110 million structural deficit related to Metro transit systems. This will likely lead to cuts in transit, despite record ridership levels over the last few years.
The bill does little to fund rail safety initiatives. Under the vetoed bill, there was no funding for additional rail inspectors. These inspectors found over 12,000 defects on rails across Minnesota in 2016. This was a 250% increase compared to 2015.
The bill was full of controversial policies that would be better dealt with on an individual basis. Many of these polices would be detrimental to our transportation infrastructure, like limiting the metropolitan area’s ability to build out a strong transit system. Another provision was aimed to restructuring local government entities, but it was put in a transportation bill. (HF 861)