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Final transportation budget bill falls short of meeting the needs of Minnesotans

Clark Goldenrod
Aug 12, 2019
Minnesotans count on their roadways to get to work, school, or community events, and no matter how they get there – whether by bus, car, or bike – having roads in good condition make that trip quicker and safer.

Despite several proposals put forward this legislative session to increase the amount of resources dedicated to building and maintaining Minnesota's roads, bridges, and transit infrastructure, the FY 2020-21 budget only raises minimal additional revenues. The state's transportation laws also continue to exclude some Minnesotans from obtaining driver's licenses.

In 2018, the Minnesota Statewide Highway Investment Plan found that Minnesota needs an additional $6 billion over the next 10 years for the state’s roads. One reason for the growing transportation funding shortfall is the failure of the gas tax - which has lost about one-third of its buying power since 2000 – to keep up with the state’s needs. In response, both Governor Tim Walz and the House proposed a series of funding mechanisms. The centerpiece was a 20-cent increase to the gas tax that would phase in over the next few years and then adjust for inflation. In total, their proposals would have increased transportation funding by roughly $1.5 billion in FY 2020-21 and $2.5 billion in FY 2022-23.

The House and Governor's plans also included a Twin Cities metro area sales tax to improve funding for MetroTransit. The Governor proposed a 1/8 cent sales tax, while the House proposed a 1/2 cent tax.

Meanwhile, the Senate proposed to use existing transportation funding rather than raise additional revenues for Minnesotans using the state's roads and transit services.

Ultimately, the Senate prevailed and no gas or transit sales tax was passed. Instead, policymakers agreed to much smaller changes that result in about $50 million in additional transportation revenues for each of the FY 2020-21 and FY 2022-23 budget cycles.

As a result, the FY 2020-21 transportation budget had little room for making the investments Minnesotans need to improve travel across town or across the state.

Thanks to the tireless work of a broad range of advocates in the Freedom to Drive coalition, an important provision passed the House this session that would have allowed all Minnesotans to apply for driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status. This provision acknowledges the immigrants who call Minnesota their home and are working, learning, and living in our communities.

For a large number of Minnesotans, the daily activities we do to support our families – like getting to work safely, dropping children off at school, or buying groceries – require driving. But for about 95,000 Minnesotans, doing these basic activities without a driver’s license could result in potentially life-altering consequences, including being separated from their families or losing their livelihoods.

The House provision was an important step toward giving all Minnesotans – regardless of who they are or where they were born – a fair shot in today’s economy.  However, the final transportation budget failed to include this proposal, so it's one that Minnesota policymakers should enact in the near future.