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Editorial: The proposals are in; now work together

With so much negativity and us vs. them in politics, let’s focus first on the common ground and that there’s actually reason for optimism now that legislative Republicans, Senate Democrats and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton all have weighed in with proposals to pay for ongoing repairs to Minnesota’s roads and bridges.

It’s this: All sides have pitched multibillion-dollar, 10-year plans, suggesting that both sides of the aisle in St. Paul recognize the state’s infrastructure needs have been overlooked long enough, won’t be cheap to address and present a problem that can’t be fixed overnight.

That’s closer together than the two sides have been, raising hopes for a compromise before the Legislature adjourns in less than two months. While some see the choice now as either increasing taxes or using existing revenue to pay for transportation needs, Minnesotans can urge DFLers and Republicans alike to embrace a bit from both of those strategies — in other words, from each other. With the need to invest in transportation so great, all ideas can be in play — and probably will need to be in play.

The Republicans this week unveiled a $7 billion, 10-year plan. They’re targeting four sources for the funding, none of them a tax increase, as they specifically touted. The state’s $1.9 billion budget surplus would provide $228 million under their plan. Another $1.2 billion would come via administrative savings at the Minnesota Department of Transportation over the 10 years. The state would borrow an additional $2.3 billion in highway bonds and general obligation bonds. And the remaining $3 billion would come from sales taxes already being collected on auto parts, vehicle rentals and vehicle licensing.

The $3 billion portion is most concerning. While using taxes from transportation-related sales for transportation improvements seems quite logical, those taxes right now are feeding the general state treasury. Rededicating them for transportation would mean $3 billion of current spending either would have to be cut or the money would have to be found somewhere else. And it’s unclear what potentially would be cut.

The Democrats have pitched an $11 billion, 10-year plan, including $6 billion in new taxes via a 16-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase at the wholesale level, increased license tab fees and a half-percent Twin Cities sales tax increase specifically for metro-area transit projects.

So while Minnesota Republicans continue to shut the door on any possibility of a tax increase to help cover the billions needed for transportation maintenance and improvement, DFLers remain just as adamantly opposed to cutting spending elsewhere to free up funding or tapping into the surplus. Party politics and the playing of political games prove problematic once again. And maddeningly frustrating for us citizens caught in the middle.

At least both parties agree transportation funding is an enormous and enormously important issue and that the solution has to be long term. Building on that nugget of agreement, on that sliver of common ground, lawmakers and the governor now have less than two months to each bend a little, to each give a little, to recognize the problem is big enough and costly enough for all their ideas to be part of the solution, and to show they really can work together.

Minnesotans are counting on nothing less.

Duluth News Tribune