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Pawlenty vetos transportation Bill

ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty rejected a $6.6 billion transportation funding package today as Democratic lawmakers look ahead to the vote that really matters: an attempt to overturn the governor's veto.

ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty rejected a $6.6 billion transportation funding package today as Democratic lawmakers look ahead to the vote that really matters: an attempt to overturn the governor's veto.

In his veto letter to House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the governor wrote that "while there is broad consensus that the state needs to build on the record level of transportation funding we have provided over the past five years, this bill is an overreaching, massive tax increase that will further burden Minnesotans during already difficult economic times."

Pawlenty, a Republican, vetoed the bill before leaving for a National Governors' Association conference in Washington, D.C. On his weekly radio show this morning, Pawlenty said the Legislature was raising gasoline and sales taxes and fees on Minnesotans just as the federal government is trying to lower the tax burden amid an economic downturn.

"There's a whole bunch of reasons why this bill is oversized and too burdensome on Minnesota taxpayers," Pawlenty said.

The House and Senate, both controlled by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, pushed the major road, bridge and transit package through the legislative process in short order, culminating in final votes late Thursday that indicated a veto override is not certain.

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Sen. Steve Murphy, the Red Wing DFLer who authored the bill, said the package creates jobs, fixes bridges with structural problems and provides funding for road safety.

"This is serious business," said Murphy, DFL-Red Wing. "Lives are at stake, and in greater Minnesota hundreds of lives are at stake."

The bill would spend about $660 million a year over 10 years on highways and local bridge work, bus and rail projects and bridge construction.

Funding is generated by:

-- A gas tax increase of a nickel per gallon this year and another 3.5 cents in coming years.

-- License tab fee increases on new vehicles and used vehicles registered outside Minnesota.

-- A sales tax hike of a quarter percent in Twin Cities-area counties. No voter approval is needed.

-- A sales tax hike option of up to one-half percent for counties outside the Twin Cities area. Voter approval is required.

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-- State borrowing.

Senators approved the measure 47-20. It passed the House 89-44, but that is one vote shy of the 90 supporters need to override the veto. Six House Republicans voted for the bill.

Two Senate Republicans - Steve Dille of Dassel and Dennis Frederickson of New Ulm - sided with Democrats.

Dille said he had planned to support the bill all along but was more confident of his decision after seeing a long list of agriculture and business groups that backed the proposal, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. That influential organization became a last-minute supporter of the bill after the metropolitan sales tax provision was changed.

"That helped," Dille said. "We clearly need a comprehensive transportation funding bill to catch up on our backlog."

Proponents claimed the bill would provide property tax relief because counties, cities and townships will receive more state aid for transportation projects. Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said local officials told him the bill will provide more money for maintenance of existing highways.

"They hate to see the roads go to heck because they know the costs are more if they need to completely rebuild them," Stumpf said.

The 8.5-cent gas tax increase will cost Minnesota drivers $51 a year, Murphy said. That assumes logging 15,000 miles in a vehicle that gets 25 miles per gallon.

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