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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Transportation advocates win battle in House

The papers are saying that this is the first significant victory for Democrats in the House this sessions, and they are right: the Transportation bill passed by the House contains a significant increase in funding for road and transit projects.

It all started last night when Rep. Ron Erhardt from Edina, one of the few moderate Republicans left, put forward an amendment to increase funding for transportation and transit in several ways, most notably by increasing the gas tax by 10 cents and dedicating a portion of the sales tax in the metro area to transit. After long debate, the amendment passed by 68 to 66, with several Republicans voting with the vast majority of Democrats to increase funding. This floored the Republican leadership, who saw that they were rapidly losing control of the situation.

The last time this happened was when Republicans revolted and put funding for Northstar commuter rail in the bonding bill a year or two ago. That time, Republican leadership quickly knocked some heads together and removed the funding. This morning, when they took up the transportation bill again, they tried in vain. First, they tried to call a recess in order to put the thumbscrews on the wayward Republicans, but they didn't even have enough votes to recess. Then, Rep. Marty Seifert talked and talked and talked in a vain attempt to forestall the inevitable. In the end, the bill passed by an even larger margin than the Erhardt amendment, 72 to 61. Finally, after years of neglect, our roads and transit systems could get the money they need.

Governor Pawlenty is already saying that he will veto a gas tax increase, but now this is his issue to screw up on. Since the Senate is most likely going to pass a gas tax increase too, it will show that the Legislature is finally working together to address issues, as opposed to last year's do-nothing session. But Pawlenty could screw this all up with a veto, painting him as the obstructionist. Steve Sviggum, who failed to protect his buddy Pawlenty from having to make such a decision, went on his usual screed, calling Democrats "Insane and crazy" and saying that "the transit pigs were at the trough," proving that he was stomped badly on this vote and is floundering. That last comment is particularly insulting to me, a bus rider who has seen countless service cuts in the past few years. I doubt Sviggum has ridden a bus in his life.

Now it's up to the Senate. They could do a number of things, even passing the House bill in its entirety without changing it, thus avoiding a conference committee and sending it directly to Pawlenty. For now, those of us who have been arguing for more funding for highways and transit can be happy at the victory.


At 12:40 PM, May 13, 2005, Anonymous Paul W said...

Pawlenty will veto this which is unfortunate. If we had a governor who truly cared what is best for Minnesota he/she would realize that our transportation system is in badly need of more funding.

It will be very interesting how voters respond in 2006. Especially amongst the suburbanites who were largely responsible for electing Pawlenty. So much of our traffic congestion problems are felt by them. If Pawlenty is seen as an obstructionist he is really taking a chance here.


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