Capitol Area Security Advisory Committee Extension
A bill passed the Legislature and was signed into law to push back the sunset of the Capitol Area Security Advisory Committee from June 30, 2022, to June 30, 2036.
The Capitol Security Advisory Committee was created in 2011 and meets regularly to discuss and advise on security issues and concerns relating to the Capitol Complex. The committee includes six members, including the lieutenant governor, two senators and two representatives from each party, and the supreme court chief justice. The legislation is supported by the Departments of Public Safety and Administration. (HF 3805)
Salvage Vehicle Title Task Force Recommendations
A bill passed and was signed into law based on the recommendations of the Salvage Title Task Force that met during the interim and submitted their report at the end of January.
Under current law, only high-value vehicles (over $9,000 in cash value) and late-model vehicles (under five years old) are required to possess a salvage title if the vehicle is involved in an incident that an insurance company deems to be a repairable but total loss.
Vehicles that do not fit within this classification may be given a ‘clean’ title regardless of whether the vehicle was determined to be totaled. This means lower value vehicles that have been totaled but repaired can slip under the radar of consumers because they don’t require a salvage title. For example, if a lower value vehicle was involved in a major flood, electrical components may fail soon after a customer purchases a damaged vehicle without ever knowing because the vehicle was purchased without a salvage title.
The agreed-upon solution to this problem has been to create a new ‘prior salvage’ title brand to encompass all totaled vehicles, not just high-value and late-model vehicles. The passage of this legislation to close the titling loophole was a good example of extensive policy work done by the task force, resulting in a bipartisan solution that will help consumers purchase used vehicles in Minnesota. (HF 3296)
Southwest Light Rail OLA Special Review
A bill passed and was signed into law to request the Office of the Legislative Auditor to conduct a special review or program evaluation of the construction of the Southwest light-rail transit project (SWLRT). The auditor is encouraged to examine the primary reasons for delays and cost increases, whether the Met Council properly managed the project’s schedule and costs, and whether there was sufficient Met Council scrutiny of route decisions and design choices that required costly changes.
Last summer, an additional $200 million in funds from Hennepin County were needed for the SWLRT project, increasing the total cost to $2.2 billion with the completion date being pushed to 2023. On January 26 of this year, the Met Council announced SWLRT is now expected to cost up to $2.75 billion and open in 2027, which is a price increase from last summer that could range from an additional $450 to $550 million. The project is 60% complete, and roughly $1.38 billion has been spent so far.
The cost overruns and scheduling delays have been attributed by the Met Council to the construction of a tunnel in the Kenilworth Corridor, the Eden Prairie Town Center Station, and crash protection walls dividing freight and light rail trains in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood. To compound cost overruns and delays, the Kenilworth Corridor tunnel may have led to cracks in the nearby Calhoun Isles condominium towers. Work along the light rail near the condos has halted as the Met Council’s structural engineer contractor determines the cause and extent of the damage, and ‘crack monitors’ have been installed to assess the damage and detect further movement.
The auditing authority and corresponding appropriation provided through this legislation will allow the Office of the Legislative Auditor to delve more thoroughly into the reasons behind the cost overruns and scheduling delays of the SWLRT project. (HF 3035)
DID NOT PASS
Transportation Supplemental Omnibus Bill
The Senate Republican majority proposed a transportation supplemental bill that provided approximately a $500 million in road and bridge infrastructure, $73 million for federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) state matching funds, and a transfer of the auto parts and replacement sales tax revenue from the general fund to dedicated transportation accounts.
The bill would have significantly hamstrung the ability of the state to draw down $200 billion in competitive IIJA grants due to restrictions placed on state matching funds. The bill would have prohibited any state funds from matching IIJA federal funds for electric vehicle infrastructure. It also included prohibitions on general fund dollars to match IIJA funds for numerous multimodal programs through MnDOT, including passenger rail or guideway (bus rapid transit) projects. The bill also cut the operating budget of the Met Council, which runs Metro Transit, in subsequent budget years, indefinitely.
Senate Republicans attempted to impose a significant tax increase in the transportation supplemental omnibus bill. The proposal would have increased the annual surcharge drivers pay for electric vehicles from $75 per year to $229 and create a new $114 hybrid vehicle annual fee. The state should be providing more incentives for consumers to purchase cleaner cars, not less.
While a $360 million transportation budget target was eventually agreed upon, a transportation supplemental omnibus bill agreement was not reached, mainly due to the inability to agree upon how to distribute the remainder of the auto parts and replacement sales tax revenue. The House DFL majority advocated for 40% of the remaining revenue to flow to transit funding, which is similar to the constitutional distribution of the motor vehicle sales tax. No deal was reached on transportation because Senate Republicans refused to allow one dime of the auto parts and replacement sales tax to go toward transit funding.
Driver and Vehicle Services Independent Expert Review
Legislation based on a recent report from the Independent Expert Review (IER) of driver and vehicle services and deputy registrars did not pass as a standalone bill or part of the transportation omnibus. The review was led by former COO of Thomson Reuters, Rick King, who also reviewed the implementation of Minnesotan’s MNDRIVE driver and vehicle infrastructure overhaul.
The IER contained 31 recommendations to the Legislature, including the authorization for deputy registrars to become full-service providers for most driver and vehicle service transactions, fee distribution to deputy registrars for processing transactions, providing 40-50 exam stations across the state, recording exam school pass/fail rates, and prioritizing decisions to reduce customer wait times as they interact with driver and vehicle services offices. (SF 3582)
Summer gas tax holiday
The DFL House considered a gas tax holiday from Memorial Day to Labor Day due to high inflation rates and Russia’s war against Ukraine. The current 28.5-cent state tax would have been suspended and cost $200 million to be paid for using a portion of the $9.3 billion budget surplus. Senate Republicans did not support the proposal since it did not provide any permanent tax relief, and the idea was never heard in any house or senate committees. (HF 4060)