WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN THE 2015 MINNESOTA LEGISLATIVE SESSION
Jim Wafler, MAPA Lobbyist
The 2015 session of the Minnesota Legislature has been under way for close to six weeks now. The session is slated to go until May 18 at the latest. This is the first year of the biennial session, so the state’s biennial budget is the top priority of state lawmakers. This is the year MnDOT and other transportation-related agencies will get their biennial appropriations. With the change in majority in the House, where Republicans now have a 72-62 edge, we can expect a lot of battles over various elements of state funding as they take on a DFL Governor and DFL Senate majority.
One of the biggest issues of this session, if pre-session and early-session hype is any indication, will be funding roads and bridges and other transportation infrastructure. Most years, highway and transit funding are not very high on lawmakers’ priority lists, but this year is different. Governor Dayton has made it a top priority and both House and Senate leadership have said additional funding for roads and bridges must get done.
The Governor has already announced a nearly $11 billion transportation funding increase, and 72% of it is earmarked for highways ($7.7+ billion). The 10-year package is paid for by a 6.5% gross receipts tax on motor fuel, a tab fee increase, and, for transit, a ½% increase in sales tax in the metro area. The Senate majority has already introduced a modest proposal to provide $1 billion over four years for roads and bridges, plus $400 million in General Obligation bonds for local roads and bridges, and a ¾% increase in metro-area sales tax for transit. House Republican leaders are adamant about absolutely no revenue increase for transportation. New Transportation Committee Chair Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing) has authored a bill to provide a very short-term fix–$750 million over four years, but he does it by spending down the existing trunk highway fund balance to near zero and taking $200 million from the currently forecasted state budget surplus of $1 billion. There is no new or ongoing money in his bill.
Several key events will take place during the session which could affect the outcome, including another state budget forecast at the end of February and a deadline for fiscal bills which is April 24, quite late in the session compared to prior years. Given the wide gulf between the proposals we have seen so far, getting a significant transportation funding bill enacted this year will be a big challenge. But it is still possible. Move Minnesota, our coalition of over 200 groups and businesses, wants to get something done and is working hard to that effect right now. Hopefully we will put together a winning strategy!
On other fronts, it appears that truck weight legislation may move forward this year. Modest changes to the Responsible Contractor Law may actually inch forward as the session progresses, but repeal looks like it is out of the question. So far, there have been no new initiatives by the concrete industry regarding mandatory pavement selection, but we are continually monitoring the situation and will keep everyone posted. Stay tuned!