ST. PAUL -- The Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to spend an extra $625 million on roads, bridges and transit projects over the next three years, reinforcing transportation's place as a marquee issue this session.
The bill, approved 61-3, also keeps alive a potential reduction in license tab fees -- a priority of Gov. Jesse Ventura that has been left out of House proposals.
More than two-thirds of the new spending would come out of the projected budget surplus and the rest would be paid for through highway bonds.
The proposed infusion is noteworthy not only for its size, but also because it comes in a nonbudget year. Both the House and Senate have made transportation a central issue in this election-year session, even though Ventura asked lawmakers to hold off until 2001.
The bill's chief sponsor, Senate Transportation Budget Chairman Dean Johnson, said it would make a dent in the list of road and bridge projects demanding state attention.
''It's safe to say that over the last few decades we have not taken care of our transportation system in Minnesota like we should have,'' said Johnson, DFL-Willmar.
Several senators wanted more money directed to transportation. Specifically, they pushed for a constitutional amendment that would require all money from vehicle sales taxes -- $550 million a year -- be used for transportation projects instead of going into the general treasury.
''We missed a golden opportunity to put more money into transportation this year,'' said Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna.
The bill does propose a constitutional amendment that would ask voters if they want to set aside 30 percent of the sales tax revenues. Half of that money would pay for tab-fee cuts of up to 20 percent. The rest would go into a new transportation fund.
A bill awaiting action in the House differs in several respects.
That bill includes $402 million for road construction -- half in the metropolitan area and half in outstate Minnesota. It has no money for bridge repair or replacement, but House Republicans set aside $44 million in their bonding proposal for those projects.
The House bill cancels $92 million in previously approved light-rail funding. But the Senate, on a 33-31 vote, rejected an attempt to use that money for buses instead of the light rail line planned for Minneapolis.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.