Transportation Funding Package on Fast Track

In an unprecedented move, the House and Senate passed a major transportation funding bill just a week into the 2008 legislative session. From the first day of the session, the transportation bill was fast-tracked through committees with limited discussion and amendments. Most Republicans, who oppose the gas- and sales-tax increases, reserved their vocal opposition for the floor debate, which lasted more than twelve hours.

The transportation bill, H.F. 2800/S.F. 2521, authored by the chairs of the transportation committees, Rep. Bernie Lieder (DFL-Crookston) and Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing), is estimated to bring in more than $7 billion in new funding and provide an estimated 300,000 jobs. The bill dedicates about $600 million to replace fractured critical trunk highway bridges and $132 million for I 35W bridge reconstruction.

The funding package finances the trunk highway system through a 5 cent gas-tax increase, 3½ cent tax surcharge to pay for debt service, tab fee increases, and a $20 new-vehicle excise tax. It provides a $25 tax credit to low-income Minnesotans to help offset the gas-tax increase.

The bill also allows county boards in the seven-county metro area to impose a quarter-cent sales tax dedicated to transit funding. The metro-wide sales tax was reduced from a half-cent sales tax, thus gaining the support of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and providing support to a few Republican legislators. The bill also allows additional counties to impose an additional sales tax, subject to a voter referendum.

The House passed the bill 89 44, falling one vote short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a gubernatorial veto. The bill passed off the Senate floor by a vote of 47 20 with two Republicans crossing party lines and voting for the funding package. The bill was expected to reach Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s desk by midnight Thursday. In line with his no-new-tax pledge, Pawlenty has already promised to veto the bill. The Senate and House will attempt a veto override early next week before the budget forecast is released on Thursday, February 28.

You can read more about the transportation funding bill on http://www.startribune.com/politics/state/15840767.html or http://www.twincities.com/allheadlines/ci_8327026.

DFLers Unveil "Green Solutions Act"

As a counter to recommendations from Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group, DFL lawmakers from the House and Senate unveiled their own package to slow global warming, the “Green Solutions Act” (H.F. 3195/S.F. 2818). The plan would impose stringent standards on emissions of new cars, similar to California’s clean car standard, and require the state to institute a multi-sector “cap and trade” program. Together, these proposals would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050, a goal of the Next Generation Energy Act, which passed in 2007.

Under the proposed cap and trade program, the overall amount of greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, would be limited, and emitters in the energy, industrial, fuel and landfill sectors would have to buy allowances in order to release them. Revenue derived from the sale of the allowances would be deposited in a Climate Trust Fund, which would be used to fund low-income Minnesotans impacted by the program and provide assistance to consumers and businesses investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy technology.

The bill encourages Minnesota to join other states in a cap and trade program through the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Accord, but if that effort does not reflect the principles for a cap and trade program as outlined in this legislation, Minnesota is instructed to move forward on its own.

The bill will receive its first hearing in the House Environment Policy Committee next Tuesday, pitting environmental groups against the business community, who will argue that the auction of allowances will cost businesses and their customers billions of dollars.

Important Dates

February 28 Release of February Forecast

March 14 First Policy Deadline

March 19 Second Policy Deadline

March 19-25 Easter Break

March 28 Third Policy Deadline