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OUR OPINION: Minnesota's highway fix starts in middle of road

Say, Minnesota lawmakers:

Have we got a deal for you.

It's a proposal that would be immensely popular throughout the state, make Minnesota a better place and win praise from coast to coast.

Interested?

Here it is:

Adopt the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities' compromise transportation plan.

Then let the good times roll.

A lot is at stake in Minnesota's transportation planning—so much, in fact, that the words "a lot" don't begin to do it justice. When you think about, say, Gov. Mark Dayton's proposal to spend $10 billion on roads and transit over 10 years ... and when you remember that if you had even $1 billion, and you spent it at a rate of $1,000 a day, it would take you a full 2,000 years to go broke ... you start to realize the enormous sums that are at stake.

Not to mention the huge amount of good the money could do, if it were spent on improving Minnesota's transportation infrastructure.

But politics being what it is, there's a good chance that Dayton and his fellow Democrats will spend the rest of the session glaring at Republicans, who have a competing, cheaper plan.

If the session ends and neither side has given an inch, then the state's roads will just keep crumbling. And next year, the Reason Foundation might rate the quality of Minnesota's highway system 50th out of 50 states, rather than "only" 42nd, as the foundation rated it in 2012.

As mentioned before in this space, Minnesotans aren't used to finding themselves at the bottom of such lineups. The state's usual position is at the top.

Enter the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, whose plan could be a ladder out of that embarrassing hole.

Basically, the coalition looked at the Democratic and Republican plans, and split the difference. For example, Democrats want to raise revenue by hiking the gas tax, among other sources. Their plan would see the tax go from the current 28.5 cents a gallon to at least 44.5 cents a gallon, a 16 cent hike. (In East Grand Forks, that increase would hammer the town's gas stations, pushing countless motorists over to Grand Forks to fill their tanks, Mayor Lynn Stauss has said.)

Republicans, for their part, don't want to hike taxes at all. Instead, their plan uses money from the budget surplus and the General Fund.

Now, the coalition's view:

"The coalition supports a comprehensive transportation plan funded by new revenues, including gas tax revenues and a limited amount of General Fund money," the group has said, summing up its own detailed plan.

In short, take the two positions, and find the middle ground. That means hiking gas taxes, but not as much as the Democrats want; and finding General Fund dollars, but not as much as Republicans want.

Can anyone doubt the cheers Minnesotans would offer if the parties accepted this common-sense view?

For once in the state's modern history, Democrats and Republicans should celebrate getting to "yes." The coalition has offered a blueprint. Now, the parties should seize this opportunity to do the right thing, and shake hands over a historic deal.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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