The Minnesota Senate on Thursday approved a comprehensive, bipartisan transportation budget agreement that invests billions into the state’s transportation infrastructure without a gas tax, mileage tax, sales tax, or license tab fee increase. The bill has been approved by the House and will next be sent to Gov. Walz for his signature.
“Roads and bridges. That has been the top Republican transportation priority from day one, and that’s what we are reemphasizing with this bill,” said Senator Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), chairman of the Transportation Committee. “This state burns millions of transportation dollars every year on things that are not permitted spending for the Highway User Trust Fund – it breaks the faith with taxpayers. Republicans are redirecting those dollars where they belong: on roads and bridges. Most importantly, this was done without new taxes, new fees, or mileage taxes. The state has plenty of money; there’s no need to ask Minnesotans to pay more.”
The transportation budget agreement provides $7.8 billion for state roads, including construction, development, and maintenance. That includes $3.68 billion for State Road Construction and $300 million for Corridors of Commerce. The bill also provides an additional $14 million for local bridges and an additional $5.5 million for the Local Road Improvement Program, as well as an additional $30 million for small city and township roads.
“The Senate Republicans have prioritized investing in roads and bridges for transportation every budget and this year is no different. This bill will reduce congestion across the state and make the roads safer for drivers so they can spend less time in the car and more time with their families,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) said. I’m particularly proud we were able to expand resources for law enforcement through increases in the number of State Patrol personnel and raises for the officers who have been providing crucial safety support during the last year of rioting, protest, and civil unrest.”
Less stress, more convenience for drivers
Senate Republicans fought to improve convenience and ease stress for Minnesota drivers this session. The final transportation budget includes several of those priorities, such as allowing Minnesotans to purchase their license tabs and replacement license plates from fully-automated kiosks; permitting driver’s education students to take the classroom portion of their instruction online; creating a pilot program where Minnesotans could receive their standard driver’s license card the same day they renew their license or pass their driving test; and reopening all recently-closed exam stations to deal with the testing backlog. The bill also provides funding to improve speeds and reduce wait times at local DMV offices by adding more staff.
Supporting law enforcement
The bill keeps the state’s commitment to law enforcement by providing $608 million for the State Patrol and capitol security, including funding to hire 63 new troopers, funding to meet the State Patrol’s request for body cameras, and funding for trooper pay raises.
Cleaning up illegal and unconstitutional MnDOT spending
The bill cleans up impermissible MnDOT spending. The Constitution mandates Minnesota’s gas tax, motor vehicle sales taxes, tab fees, and auto parts sales tax be used strictly for “highway purposes,” yet each year the state spends about $232 million from these accounts on programs unrelated to roads. Many of these items, such as aeronautics, tourist information centers, and parades will be moved to the general fund.
Keeping kids safe while en route to school
The bill includes $15 million to protect children at school bus stops by equipping Minnesota school buses with outward-facing cameras to catch stop-arm violators. The provision would likely make Minnesota the first state in the nation to install cameras in all its buses. The bill also provides $7 million dollars for the successful Safe Routes to Schools program, which aims to improve student safety and reduce traffic near schools.