Dayton wants to make it easier for MnDOT to pay for snow plowing

During the past decade, MnDOT's slow plowing costs have averaged $85 million, but last year, it was $50 million above that.

It's those huge budget swings that Gov. Mark Dayton and MnDOT are trying to avoid via a proposed contingency fund to pay for plowing during big snow years.

"It's an expensive proposition," MnDOT's Kevin Gutknecht says, referring to plowing. "We've got materials that we put on the roads in salt. We have employees who drive the trucks. We have to maintain the trucks, we have to fuel the trucks. All of those things cost money."

And some costs are rising, including the per-ton price of salt -- up four percent this year.

That's why Dayton's budget asks lawmakers to approve a snow and ice contingency fund for when year-end snow removal costs exceed the 10-year average by 110 percent.

"If we reach that threshold, then we want to be able to use money from the Trunk Highway Fund and this would be unappropriated money that is in the balance, so it wouldn't effect our construction program," Dayton says.

Currently MnDOT pays for snow plowing out of the same pot of money it uses for potholes and road maintenance. Officials argue a contingency fund would keep that work going after a bad snow season.

So far, MnDOT has spent about $50 million on plowing this winter, which is about $9 million less than what it spent last year at this time.