Gas Tax Politicking

Minnesota House panel rejects hike; Senate backs it

ST. PAUL, Minn. --Plans to raise Minnesota's 20-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax hit a roadblock Thursday in the state House, but stayed on course in the state Senate, said the Associated Press.

The respective transportation budget committees staked out different positions on the gasoline tax as they crafted bills to put billions of dollars into the state's road and transit system over the next 10 years.

The House Transportation Finance Committee voted down a plan to add a nickel to the gasoline tax. The Senate Transportation Budget [image-nocss] Division approved a bill that would increase the tax by 4 cents this year and 3 cents more in 2007. Both bills also raise the fees that some car owners would pay to register their vehicles.

The House spending bill, approved on a voice vote, could put $6.3 billion into road and transit projects over the next decade. That amount would be cut in half if voters do not agree in 2006 to dedicate future vehicle sales tax proceeds to transportation needs through a constitutional amendment.

The Senate bill, which passed on an 11 to 7 bipartisan vote, contains a potential $5.8 billion for transportation and also has some funding contingent on a vehicle sales tax amendment.

The House committee took two gasoline tax votes, including one that stripped a provision that would have let citizens decide in a constitutional referendum whether to raise the tax. The vote would not occur until 2006; the other would have raised the tax this June upon final approval.

Governor Tim Pawlenty has vowed to veto any bill that contains a state tax increase. And the House committee chairperson, State Representative Mary Liz Holberg (R) said legislators should take Pawlenty at his word.

There will never be enough votes to override a veto on the gas tax, she said.

Rep. Dan Larson (DFL) said he is not convinced Pawlenty would follow through on the veto threat. The gasoline tax is dedicated to road funding, so some regard it more as a user fee. An override might be difficult, but I don't know why we wouldn't put pressure on the governor, Larson said. If he wants to veto it, then we'll go back to work.

The Senate handily rejected an attempt to make the gasoline tax increase contingent on voter approval. I don't think the price of gas should be part of our founding document, said State Senator Sharon Marko (DFL).

A gasoline tax increase has decent odds of getting through the Senate, and it could resurface as an amendment on the House floor, AP said.