Republicans use unstable funding for roads and bridges

This bill maintains base funding for many of the agencies under the committee’s purview. The bill shifts about $400 million away from the general fund through rededicating a portion of the sales tax revenues from vehicle repairs and auto parts, rededicating the sales tax on short term car rentals (6.5%), rededicating the rental car tax (9.2%), and rededicating portions of the motor vehicle lease sales taxes. The tails target increases to $500 million. The bill adopts a few of the Governor’s smaller recommendations for the Department of Transportation (MnDOT), but none from the Department of Public Safety (DPS). There are also many policy provisions included, some of which are controversial. (SF 1060)

Governor’s concerns:

  • The additional funding that would be provided if this bill were enacted is insufficient to adequately address the needs of the state and local systems. In addition, the exclusive reliance on funding from sources that history has proven to be unreliable makes it questionable whether the funding amounts will be available in future years.
  • Facing this shortfall, Metro Transit will be forced to cut service and increase fares. Even with a fare increase of 25 cents, The Met Council estimates that the bill will force Metro Transit to cut regular route service by nearly 17% by 2018.
  • Eliminating the commitment to fund 50% of light rail operation expenses jeopardizes projects’ future, and has real impacts on the state. For Southwest Light Rail, a $700 million civil construction package has been put out for bid on the project. This investment will bring federal dollars back into the state, and help the region remain competitive with peer regions in attracting talent.

Senate DFL Caucus concerns:

  • The Senate Republican budget is another example of shifts. The transportation budget bill takes $400 million from the general fund, which would otherwise go to fund schools, senior services, and veterans.
  • Minnesota needs sustainable, ongoing, and dedicated funding for roads, bridges, and transit. If the Senate Republicans can shift money out of the general fund for this, they can certainly shift it back during the next budget crunch. This is not reliable or sustainable.
  • Transit is an integral part of Minnesota’s success as a state. Workers, students, and families use transit to get to work, school, and doctors’ offices. The legislature needs to fund transportation and transit in order for Minnesota to grow and attract workers and help older Minnesotans stay in their communities.

Neutral REAL ID passes Senate

The Minnesota Senate passed a neutral REAL ID bill that would allow Minnesotans to board flights and visit their loved ones on military bases without unrelated and controversial language that stymied the bill earlier this session.

An earlier version of the REAL ID bill failed to pass the Senate with a strong bipartisan vote against it. DFL senators have been asking for a neutral REAL ID bill since the first compliance bill passed in 2016. Senate Republicans finally compromised and removed the controversial and unnecessary rulemaking language some DFL senators objected to. The bill is now neutral and has bipartisan support. If passed into law, the legislation will bring Minnesota into federal compliance with REAL ID requirements.

After more than a decade of back and forth with the federal government and years of fighting at the Legislature, lawmakers got together not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Minnesotans who understood the need to compromise to pass this important bill.

This bipartisan bill is about compliance and does not include unnecessary and controversial language the previous bill contained. With this strong bipartisan vote, the Senate is sending a compelling message to the Republican House that immigration policy is unnecessary in legislation to implement driver’s licensing standards. (SF 166)

Senate DFL Caucus concerns:

  • Minnesotans need to be able to board airplanes. This bill allows Minnesotans to visit their loved ones who are on military bases or away at school. It also ensures there are no unnecessary barriers to Minnesota’s economy.
  • Minnesotans need to be able to board airplanes. The Republican majority finally decided to compromise and remove the controversial language the Senate DFL opposed –because it had nothing to do with implementing REAL ID.

Senate attempts to ban handheld cellphone use

There was an attempt to amend a ban on handheld cellphone use for drivers into the omnibus transportation bill. The amendment would have prohibited the use of cellphones while driving except if the driver was using a voice activated or hands-free device. The bill also makes it a primary offense, so if a law enforcement officer sees someone breaking this law they can pull the driver over. According to the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety, each year in Minnesota, distracted or inattentive driving is a factor in one in four crashes, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries. Bill supporters are hoping to promote safer driving habits and reduce avoidable injuries and deaths.

Minnesota would join 14 other states and the District of Columbia in banning hand-held cellphone use while driving.

Minnesota is already one of 46 states to ban texting while driving. Devices that are exclusively for navigational purposes will be exempt from the hands-free ban, as would calls placed to report a medical emergency or a serious traffic hazard, or prevent a crime. (SF 837)

Senate DFL Media