House Republicans now embrace tab fee increase

Minnesota House Republicans have taken up a portion of Governor Dayton’s offer to increase vehicle license tab fees to pay for transportation improvements.  The question now is by how much.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt on Wednesday said his caucus had decided to meet Governor Dayton half way.

“We realized that we need to find true compromise,” said the Speaker.

The House proposal on tab fees would raise $100 million, substantially less than the $509 million offered by the Governor on Monday.

The House tab fee plan would be applied to new car purchases going forward and based upon the price of the car.  For example, on a $30,000 new vehicle, Minnesotans currently pay $385 for their tabs.  Under the Governor’s proposal, it would go up to $509.  House republicans scaled that back to just $390.  The rates would drop in each of the next 10 years the car is owned.

“Under this proposal no one would pay more, and more than half of the cars on the road would pay less for their license tabs,” Daudt said.

The House proposal also spends $300 million from the general fund on roads and bridges and would shift the revenues from the auto parts sales tax into a dedicated transportation stability fund.  The complete package totals $600 million a year.

But House republicans are holding off on dedicating any money to transit.  Also, House Speaker Daudt said he would he would like to kill the proposed Southwest Light Rail project even though the state has already invested millions of dollars in its development.   Daudt said there’s not a single vote in his caucus for SWLRT.

“Most of the emails I get in opposition come from the area from where the train would actually provide service,” said Daudt.  “We think those dollar are much better spent to upgrade our roads and bridge infrastructure.  And remember that’s a mode [trains] that far less than 2-percent of the population uses.”

The plan to kill SWLRT faces stiff opposition in the DFL Senate.

“Well I don’t why he’d want to do that,” said Senate Majori Leader Tom Bakk.  “I mean there’s about 900-million dollars of federal dollars on a very, very large construction project.”

“I talked to the Speaker about this yesterday,” Bakk said.  “Transit isn’t an investment for this generation, it’s an investment for the next one.” 

Governor Dayton also criticized the lack of transit funding.  Late Tuesday, Dayton said House republicans are only about two-thirds of the way to coming up with enough money for a deal.

House and Senate leaders were going to meet again Tuesday night to try and come up with some agreements on spending targets for the tax bill and supplemental budget.

House Capital Investment Chairman, Rep. Paul Torkelson will release the details of the Bonding Bill on Wednesday morning.  The total construction package is expected to run $800 million, about half of what the Senate has proposed borrowing for state-wide infrastructure projects.