Transportation debate in focus as budget surplus negotiations begin at the Capitol

Published 10:36 am Tuesday, May 10, 2016

ST. PAUL — Minnesota legislators entered private negotiations Monday over how to spend a $900 million budget surplus, turning their focus to transportation in an effort to find a compromise between vastly different funding plans.

After a brief meeting behind closed doors to kick off negotiations, Gov. Mark Dayton and other top leaders stressed it was early but that they were optimistic about hammering out deals on road and bridge repairs, tax relief and other spending priorities. The transportation debate will get the top billing, with Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt calling it a logical first step that will help determine how much money lawmakers have left over.

“Once transportation comes together, all the other pieces will fall into place,” Daudt said. “If you spend a large chunk on gen fund dollars on transportation, you can’t spend it on other stuff.”

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But it won’t be easy — as in other areas, the two sides are far apart. Dayton and fellow Democrats in the Senate are pushing for a gas tax increase and some other fee hikes to drum up $600 million a year over the next decade, while Republicans who control the House want to tap into the budget surplus and shift existing taxes on auto part sales.