In a recent letter to the editor, House Republican Transportation Chair Tim Kelly expressed optimism that the legislature will pass a comprehensive transportation package this session. I am glad that he is optimistic, but I’d rather he be honest about the problem before us and bring forward a proposal that actually solves the problem.
For example, Rep. Kelly praised the bare minimum transportation bill they passed last session for its support for local road funding, but he doesn’t tell you that most local communities view this as a small drop in the bucket. The reality is those funds can help most small cities fix less than a mile of road. One local mayor said the bill “didn’t even come close to meeting our needs” (“For Small Cities, Road Aid is Little Help,” In Forum, 11/21/15).
The so-called plan that Rep. Kelly and House Republicans are promoting similarly comes up short for several reasons. First, it relies on billions in borrowing that would need to be approved by future legislatures — borrowing that has to be paid for later. Second, the plan double counts federal dollars that are already flowing in to our transportation system and aren’t actually available to add new capacity for road and bridge construction. You cannot pay two road contractors with the same dollar bill, but that’s what Republicans propose to do.
Third, the plan relies on one-time surplus dollars that will be gone by the next biennium, thus not addressing our long-term needs. And lastly, the plan relies heavily on general fund dollars, meaning they would siphon money that is currently being used to fund everything from education to nursing homes and put that toward roads and bridges. Indeed, the Republican House has already passed spending and tax legislation that will send the state into a deep deficit in a few years.
The reality is we need new, dependable revenue to address our state’s $16 billion shortfall in funding for roads and bridges. None of our kids could get away with simply telling their teacher that the numbers add up without showing their work, but that’s what the House Republicans are trying to do. I hope the Republicans will get serious and work together with Governor Dayton and the DFL-led Senate to reach a compromise that will solve this problem with a sustainable, statewide solution