The Minnesota Senate approved a bipartisan transportation budget on Thursday, April 22 that invests billions of dollars over the next two years in the state’s transportation infrastructure without a gas tax, mileage tax, sales tax or license tab fee increase.
“This bill provides significant investments to our road and bridge infrastructure,” said Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake. “We focused on our core transportation needs by providing safer travel and reducing wasteful spending. Our small towns and cities will see an infusion of unprecedented levels of funding for roads and bridges under this plan.”
The 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 new, ongoing funding for small city and township roads.
The bill boosts funding for roads and bridges by increasing the share of dedicated existing revenue from the auto parts sales tax, with additional dedicated funding for small cities and townships.
Westrom cited several highlights from the bill:
Less stress, more convenience for drivers
The transportation budget will improve convenience and ease stress for Minnesota drivers by allowing Minnesotans to purchase their license tabs and replacement license plates from fully-automated kiosks.
It allows third-party locations to offer road tests in order to allow more timely drivers tests exams and clear out the backlog of students waiting to take their driver’s test.
It also permits driver’s education students to take the classroom portion of their instruction online, and it creates 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.
Roads, not bike paths
The bill would prohibit the Minnesota Department of Transportation from removing car lanes on trunk highways and converting to bike paths, 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.
Cleaning up MnDOT spending
Westrom said 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.
The bill, Westrom said, 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.
Keeping kids safe while in route 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 violations. Minnesota would likely be the first state in the nation to achieve that mark, Westrom said.
The bill also provides $1 million dollars for the Safe Routes to Schools program, which aims to improve student safety and reduce traffic near schools.
Passenger rail funding suspended
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, Westrom said.
Law enforcement support
Westrom said 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.