Transportation plans pull funding for future light rail projects, keep gas tax same

After years of funding plans filled with potholes, state lawmakers are now trying to pave a new way to pay for roads.

The Senate and the House have now unveiled their transportation plans for Minnesota. The plans are different, but they do share some similarities, such as no funding for future metro light rail projects and no support for the governor’s main funding source – the gas tax.

If there's one agreement between the House and the Senate, it's on not raising the gas tax.

"Minnesotans have spoken loudly and clearly that they don't want to have their taxes raised,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, House transportation finance chair, said.

The House roads and bridges bill comes in at $2 billion for the next two years. It's larger than the Senate bill released on Monday coming at $1.3 billion.

The money for the House plan in part comes from shifting the sales tax revenues on car parts and auto repairs and car rentals away from the general fund.

Democrats say that money is needed for other priorities. 

"So, the fact is it divides the state, taking money from schools and healthcare to fund transportation. [It] is not a long term plan, not a vision,” Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, said.

But, House and Senate Republicans share a vision on transit, and it doesn't include any new light rail projects without legislative approval. 

Those projects are currently approved by the Met Council and local governments. The new House transportation policy chair says the legislature needs oversight on how transit dollars are spent.

"The state should not be footing the bill for a whole program that continues to grow that we don't have any ability and any say over,” Rep. Linda Runbeck, the transportation policy chair, said.

On Friday, 70 Republican lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking her to deny the final full-funding agreement on the Southwest Light Rail project in part on the grounds that the legislature is about the pull the state funds to operate it once it's built.