The Mankato Democrat said so far Dayton's plan is the only proposal that will make it possible to finish expanding U.S. 14 from Rochester to New Ulm. He noted that lawmakers elected this year pledged that greater Minnesota would be a priority this session.
"A lot of those folks came up here, especially from my district, and promised outstate Minnesota was going to see big dividends. Highway 14 needs to be done and people were under the understanding that that was the commitment to get that done as part of the growth for outstate Minnesota," he said.
Walz joined fellow DFL Reps. Rick Nolan and Keith Ellison at a press conference to voice support for increased transportation funding. The event was sponsored by Move MN, a coalition of 200 businesses, organizations and local governments that is pushing for a transportation package with dedicated revenue.
Dayton's plan includes a tax on gasoline at the wholesale level, which would amount to at least a 16-cent per gallon increase at the pump. Senate DFLer's have put forward a similar transportation plan. Meanwhile, House Republicans are supporting a $7 billion transportation plan with no tax increases. Instead, their plan relies on existing revenue and borrowing.
The key to getting U.S. 14 funded is the Corridors of Commerce program, which funds projects that are not included in the state's four-year State Transportation Improvement Program — such as U.S. 14. Dayton's plan would invest $1.6 billion into the program over the next 10 years while the House plan allocates $800 million. The U.S. 14 Highway Partnership has said it fears the project won't get done under the House plan because the project's total price tag is $500 million and the Corridors of Commerce money has to be divvied out statewide.
Even as members of Congress make the case for a transportation bill, it's becoming unclear whether legislative leaders can come to an agreement on one. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said Monday that unless House Republicans are willing to agree to a dedicated tax to fund transportation, he's not willing to support their push for tax cuts. He noted that lawmakers do not have to pass a transportation package or tax bill in order to end the session.
House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee Chairman Tim Kelly said he finds it hard to believe lawmakers won't pass a major transportation funding plan because of a dispute over raising taxes. He said the House, Senate and governor all agree on the need to make an historic investment in transportation.
"I would be very, very surprised if we would walk away from the amount of funding that we've put forward," Kelly said.
He added that the House plan does put a sizable amount of money into Corridors of Commerce that would help get projects such as U.S. 14 done.
Walz warned legislators if they don't embrace a major transportation bill that gets U.S. 14 done, there will be consequences.
"If it's not done, there is gong to be responsibility for why it's not done. So step up and get this thing done together," Walz said.