The Minnesota Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee on Thursday passed a comprehensive transportation budget that invests billions over the next two years in the state’s transportation infrastructure – without a gas tax, mileage tax, sales tax, or license tab fee increase.
“A healthy and robust transportation system is essential to a thriving state,” said Senator Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), chairman of the Transportation Committee. “Millions of Minnesotans depend on it every day for everything from getting to work or school, to making sure their local grocery store is well-stocked, to vacations, day trips, and tourism. Once again, the Republican budget provides the resources we need to have some of the best transportation infrastructure in the country, and we did it without raising the gas tax, license tab fees, or adding an unpopular new mileage tax.”
The Republican transportation budget provides $3.03 billion for state road construction, development, and maintenance; $2.25 billion for County and Municipal State Aid Roads; and $334 million for Corridors of Commerce. The bill also provides $60 million for local and small bridges and $18.5 million for the Local Road Improvement Program. The bill also provides unprecedented levels of new, ongoing funding for small city and township roads.
The bill boosts funding for roads and bridges by increasing the share of dedicated revenue from the auto parts sales tax. Current law will provide roughly 49% of that tax revenue to roads and bridges in the next fiscal year — a figure that drops about two percent in each following year. The Republican plan increases it to 60% and dedicates 3% to small cities and another 3% to townships. In 2017, Senate Republicans won a major victory for Minnesota’s transportation infrastructure by redirecting a portion of revenue from this existing tax to road and bridge projects.
Less stress, more convenience for drivers
The Republican transportation budget includes several reforms to improve convenience and ease stress for Minnesota drivers:
- The bill would allow Minnesotans to purchase their license tabs and replacement license plates from a fully automated kiosk, instead of standing in line at their local deputy registrar’s office or ordering them online and waiting for them to be mailed. This is already an option in a number of neighboring states.
- The bill would address the backlog of students waiting to take their driver’s test by allowing third-party locations to offer road tests. Last year, the governor signed a bill developed by Senate Republicans that authorized third-party locations to provide written tests. The bill further clears the backlog by allowing CDL tests to be administered by third parties.
- The bill would create a pilot program allowing Minnesotans to receive their standard driver’s license card the same day they renew their license or pass their driving test.
- The bill would prohibit MnDOT from converting car lanes on trunk highways to bike paths or bike routes, or from using gas tax revenue to build bike paths. The bill also prohibits local governments from unilaterally creating bike paths in areas that would eliminate or relocate disability parking spaces.
- The bill would allow driver’s education students to take the classroom portion of their instruction online. A number of communities adapted to the governor’s stay-home order at the start of the coronavirus outbreak by allowing all students to take driver’s ed courses online. This provision would make that option available to everyone permanently.
- The bill would allow Minnesotans to apply for a replacement Social Security card online. Minnesota is one of only five states that prohibits online Social Security card replacements.
Protecting students traveling to school
The bill includes $35 million to protect children at school bus stops by equipping every school bus in Minnesota with cameras to catch stop-arm violators. Minnesota would likely be the first state in the nation to achieve that mark. In a Department of Public Safety single-day survey in 2019, 2,376 bus drivers reported 625 violations. Over the course of a 170-day school year, that adds up to more than 106,000 stop-arm violations. Only a fraction of Minnesota school bus drivers participated in the survey, so it is likely that 106,000 is on the low-end of total violations.
The bill also provides $1 million dollars for the successful Safe Routes to Schools program, which aims to improve student safety and reduce traffic near schools.
Cleaning up illegal and unconstitutional MnDOT spending
The bill cleans up illegal and unconstitutional MnDOT spending — a practice also known as leakage. Minnesota’s gas tax, motor vehicle sales taxes, tab fees, and auto parts sales tax fund two of the state’s primary road funding accounts. The Constitution mandates that these funds be used strictly for “highway purposes,” yet each year the state spends about $232 million from these accounts on programs unrelated to roads. The bill cancels funding for unnecessary items, like tourist information centers or bike paths, and shifts essential programs, such as emergency 9-1-1 radio communications, to the general fund.
Protecting state taxpayers from wasteful rail spending
The bill suspends funding for the heavily subsidized North Star passenger rail, pending federal approval. The bill also protects statewide taxpayers by shifting the responsibility for funding current and future light rail development to counties instead of the state of Minnesota.
Supporting law enforcement
The bill keeps the state’s commitment to law enforcement by providing $267 million over the next two years for the state patrol, including $9.1 million to hire 25 new troopers and $6.3 million to meet their request for body cameras.