Minn. Legislators OK Gas Tax Hike

Pawlenty vows veto; override unlikely

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Governor Tim Pawlenty will veto the gasoline tax bill the Minnesota Legislature approved, according to a report by the Pioneer Press. He may veto it at the Twin Cities metropolitan-area gas station with the highest gas prices, his spokesperson told the newspaper syndicate, to drive home his position that Minnesotans cannot bear a 10-cent gasoline tax increase.

Despite Pawlenty's threats, the state Senate moved ahead in a 36 to 31 party-line vote and Wednesday joined the House in passing a gasoline tax increase the administration said [image-nocss] will be vetoed. The bill marks the first time a state tax increase reached the governor's desk since he was elected in 2002 on a campaign pledge to oppose all such tax increases, the report said.

The approved proposal to raise the state gas tax to 30 cents over the next two years is part of an aggressive 10-year plan that would pump $7.3 billion into the Minnesota's roads and transit systems. The doomed bill, which first passed the Republican-controlled House last week, includes an increase in license tab fees and would allow counties to levy a tax on certain vehicles, said the report.

All of the Republicans voted against the gasoline tax increase, with arguments ranging from the hardships the tax increase would pose for Minnesotans to charges of political posturing designed to challenge the governor.

I don't think it takes a lot of political courage to vote for a bill that will never become law, that will be vetoed. That's just posturing. said State Senator Geoff Michel (R).

Democrats said the bill, despite four drafting errors, represents the best chance the legislature has had in years to provide meaningful investments needed to ease congestion and improve highway safety. They implored the governor to approve the increase in the gasoline tax, which was last raised in 1988.

State Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson (DFL) said he would not rule out calling up a separate Senate transportation bill for a vote, but that also includes a seven-cent gas tax increase. Although Minority Leader Sen. Dick Day (R) Sen. Mark Ourada, the lead Republican on the Senate Transportation Committee, support a smaller gasoline tax increase, Day said Republicans will not weaken a Republican governor with a vote to override his veto, said the report.

For months, I have made it clear that I would veto a gas tax increase that doesn't give voters the opportunity to approve it, Pawlenty said in a statement.

In light of high gas prices, he said, his plan to borrow money and ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment to dedicate all motor vehicle sales tax proceeds to transportation is more reasonable. Voters will be asked on the November 2006 ballot to dedicate all motor vehicle sales tax revenue, which currently flows into the general fund, to transportation by fiscal year 2012. If passed, the legislature would have up to seven years to figure out how to replace those funds, which are now used for education and health care.

Pawlenty said he plans to veto the bill in time to allow for a veto override vote, his spokesperson said. But such an override is unlikely given the narrow margin of approval in the state House and Senate, the report said.

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