One of the major issues of the 2015 legislative session is addressing Minnesota’s aging and underfunded transportation network. As the state continues to grow, our roads and bridges are struggling to keep up. As a result, growing needs for transit and other options are going unmet. The Senate and House have laid out starkly different plans to get there.
The Senate plan provides a comprehensive approach based on sustainable, dedicated funding for Minnesota’s transportation network. Relying on the gross receipts tax, all new revenue from this source is constitutionally dedicated to repairing, maintaining, and building the state’s roads and bridges. This new revenue would be a major boost to our existing network.
The House plan relies on general fund budget shifts. Using this funding creates several problems for long-term transportation project planning and funding. First and foremost, using general fund money takes money from other priorities, like money for our schools, keeping tuition costs low, or services for our most vulnerable citizens.
To complicate things, general fund money is not guaranteed. Although the state has a surplus this biennium, we may not in the future. As transportation projects require a long-term approach, it is irresponsible to use a source that may dry up. In an economic downturn, who would want to choose between cuts to our schools and seniors or stopping a bridge renovation project halfway through? This is no way to move Minnesota forward.
While roads and bridges are one piece of the puzzle, there is a growing demand for different transit options across the state – metro, suburban, and rural. The Senate plan increases the ability for transit to meet this growing demand, expanding bus lines, bike lanes, and pedestrian options. On the other hand, the House plan makes substantial cuts to transit, hitting Minnesotans who rely on this the hardest. We need a comprehensive plan that takes an all-of-the-above approach.
The Senate plan invests $800 million for Corridors of Commerce, thanks to increased bonding capacity due to the new dedicated revenue. This program has funded projects across the state, and would continue to connect Minnesota’s regional centers. In the past, this funding has gone to Greater Minnesota – projects along Highway 14, Highway 23, and Highway 2. While the House plan also uses bonding, their lack of new dedicated revenue means many projects would be beyond the bonding capacity of Trunk Highway Fund.
Rail safety continues to be on the minds of Minnesotans, including over 300,000 who live within a half-mile of a rail line. Just this week, a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in North Dakota, forcing the evacuation of a small town. We must work to prevent these accidents. The Senate plan includes $32.5 million per year for safety improvements and upgrades and creates an Office of Rail Safety – the House plan includes just $5 million.
Minnesotans expect and deserve a transportation network that works for all citizens and communities. We can no longer afford a piecemeal approach. The Senate plan delivers a comprehensive, sustainable, and dedicated approach that will create a 21st century transportation network. (H.F. 4)