ST. PAUL -- Minnesota motorists would pay at least 6 cents more for a gallon of gas under a bill that passed the Senate 39-26 Thursday.
The provision was part of a 10-year transportation funding package expected to raise about $5 billion to build roads, bridges and help transit systems.
The state would borrow $1 billion over 10 years for highways, repaying the loan with a gas tax that would rise 6 cents per gallon, to 26 cents, on June 1 and with inflation in subsequent years.
"I realize it's never easy to vote for tax increases," said Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar and chairman of a transportation budget panel.
But, he said, 14 years have passed since the last gas tax increase -- a 1-cent hike to 20 cents in 1988 -- and it's time for more transportation projects to get done.
For a person who drives 24,000 miles a year in a car that gets an average of 24 miles a gallon, the proposed hike would cost $60 annually. The gas tax is constitutionally dedicated, meaning it can only be used for transportation purposes.
Even with the increase, Minnesota's gas tax still would be 2 cents lower than neighboring Wisconsin's.
Sen. Claire Robling said 6 cents was "a little high," especially when one third of the hike would go into a multi-modal fund to be used for transit, highway and other purposes such as light rail.
She also said more money should go to the Twin Cities metropolitan area, which holds about 60 percent of the state's population.
"We know there are some very, very major needs in the metro area," the Prior Lake Republican said. "The formula needs to be based more on population."
Johnson said those who crafted the bill tried to make it fair to all areas of the state.
"The point is the needs for transportation are statewide," Johnson said. "What we're trying to do is have a balanced approach."
Voters in the 11-county metro area also would be asked to vote on a half-cent sales tax increase that would generate more than $2 billion over 10 years for highway and transit improvements.
Top administration officials have said they would recommend Gov. Jesse Ventura sign the bill if it reaches his desk. Earlier in his term, Ventura recommended a long-term transportation funding package that wasn't acted on by the Legislature.
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