City and county leaders joined Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Thursday to speak out in support of the governor's $11 billion transportation proposal, which would fund up to $75 million in local road and bridge improvements.
Among those backing the governor's proposal is Olmsted County Commissioner Jim Bier. He said he supports Gov. Mark Dayton's proposal for a 6.5 percent tax on gasoline at the wholesale level because more funding is needed to maintain the state's transportation system.
"We need to make that commitment if we want to have good roads. They are not going to happen by themselves," Bier said.
During a news conference, Smith and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle highlighted eight road and bridge projects in Olmsted County that would get done if the governor's plan passes. Smith also warned that if lawmakers are unwilling to make major investments in transportation, needed upgrades to U.S. Highway 14 and U.S. Highway 52 won't happen.
"If you want to see once and for all Highway 14 working, if you want to deal with what really needs to be done with Highway 52, those are the kinds of things that we can only afford if we take this proposal forward," she said.
Thursday's visit by Smith is just the latest in a statewide campaign to build support for the governor's proposal. Dayton, Smith and Zelle have been crisscrossing the state in recent days making the case for Dayton's plan. His proposal would invest $6 billion in roads and bridges over the next 10 years and nearly $3 billion in Twin Cities metropolitan and Greater Minnesota transit systems. It would also generate nearly $2.4 billion for local transportation projects.
To pay for it, Dayton's plan relies on the whole gas tax, which would result in an estimated 16 cents per gallon increase at the pump. It also calls for boosting vehicle registration fees and imposing a half-cent metro sales tax increase.
So far, Dayton has had trouble convincing legislative Republicans and the state chamber of commerce to get on board with his plan. A recent KSTP/Survey USA poll found that 51 percent of those surveyed opposed the governor's transportation proposal while 43 percent approved of it.
Still, Smith and Zelle said they see cause for optimism — especially considering what is happening in Iowa. That state's Republican Gov. Terry Branstad recently signed a bill to raise the state's gas tax by 10 cents per gallon.
"Iowa is figuring that out and our roads, in many cases, are in worse condition. I think we can do that. I think we can do better. The time to act is now," Zelle said.
But House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee Chairman Tim Kelly said he's "appalled" the Dayton administration is singling out 600 road and bridge projects when touting the governor's plan.
"The inference is if we don't get the money the way the governor has said, these projects won't get done," the Red Wing Republican said.
House Republicans have proposed a four-year, $750 million transportation bill that does not include tax increases. Kelly said that bill is just a starting point and the GOP plans to roll out a more comprehensive funding solution within the next 10 days.