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Pioneer Editorial: Set example with pact for roads, transit

The time soon arrives for an intense drive in St. Paul to a May 21 finish -- barring a special session of the Minnesota Legislature. With the Senate having passed its major funding bills a week ago and the House set to do the same next week, litt...

The time soon arrives for an intense drive in St. Paul to a May 21 finish -- barring a special session of the Minnesota Legislature. With the Senate having passed its major funding bills a week ago and the House set to do the same next week, little time is left for major swings in policy.

First, spending differences between the House and Senate will be needed, even though Democrats control both chambers. Then, it's comparing numbers with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Judging on a few harbingers of what's to come, the smooth ride that was assured in January will quickly become a bumpy, hazardous route that may or may not end May 21. That, obviously, is not what the public wants, as shown by their votes last fall.

One of the first hurdles to cross is for a new transportation funding package. We fear that what is on the table now, left unchanged, will be enough to deadlock the Legislature and surely guarantee a summer session that nobody wants.

Gov. Pawlenty reiterated Thursday his firm stance against raising taxes, as a rally of truckers, construction workers and lawmakers was held outside the State Capitol, sponsored by the Minnesota Transportation Alliance. Minnesota's highway infrastructure is in danger of collapse, and needs a massive infusion of money just to maintain what we have.

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Some will say taxes need to be drastically boosted to deliver the kind of money needed, while others won't raise taxes if their life depended on it and would rather borrow money, bankrupting future generations. They're both right and they're both wrong. But, by digging in one's heels, this session could end as most have the last 15 years with no serious funding for roads.

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, who is in Bemidji today, attended Thursday's rally and challenged Pawlenty to sign the bill coming from the Legislature.

The state's gasoline tax, set at 20 cents a gallon since 1988, clearly needs to be boosted. But not at the level suggested by the DFL Senate, which calls for 10 cents at once and also includes extra cents to pay for borrowing. Too much too soon, and assured veto bait. Yet Pawlenty needs to understand that a solution will come from multiple areas, perhaps a 5-cent increase, along with license tab fee increases and other proposals. Maybe not all of them, but certainly some in concert with a gas tax increase. We can't, however, continue to borrow our way out of potholes and leave the bill to future Minnesotans.

Perhaps it will take new thinking, such as a tax on miles driven along with engine size, as today's cleaner vehicles burn less gas and will eventually cause gas tax revenues to dip.

At any rate, both sides need to back off from their respective bottom lines and work to move Minnesota forward in transportation funding. It could become an example -- good or bad -- of how the rest of the budget bills will go.

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