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Editorial: GOP blocking of federal money unnecessary

The GOP’s blocking of federal funds headed for Minnesota road projects seems unwarranted at best and obstructionist at worst.

House GOP Transportation Committee Chair Tim Kelly of Red Wing put a block on about $100 million in federal road funding coming to the state, exercising a little known power through the Legislative Advisory Committee to halt such funds while the Legislature is not in session.

In a letter to Minnesota Revenue Commissioner Myron Franz, Kelly, who is not running for re-election, said the entire Legislature should have a say in approving these federal funds and that allowing the amount of funding to go through would be “unprecedented.”

Gov. Mark Dayton immediately cried foul, saying the delay would halt some 28 road projects starting next construction season, including road resurfacing around the state. Bridge projects in Virginia, Bloomington and Winona could be delayed.

Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said the blocked funding would likely delay road projects, meaning the costs would go up.

Past practice is for federal funds like this to be approved by the Legislative Advisory Commission when the Legislature is not in session. Kelly argues the entire Legislature should make the determination on accepting these federal funds because of the amount of the allocation. But Dayton says it’s an unprecedented and unnecessary delay.

In the same order where the road funds were blocked, another $43 million in spending for various other areas was approved, including some projects Republicans had an interest in. In October of 2015, the commission approved a total of about $225 million in projects, about $80 million of which were transportation projects. Other Republican members of the Legislative Advisory Committee had no apparent objections to the fund approval.

We cannot recall another time such funds were delayed. It seems unnecessary. It may be part of an ongoing disagreement between Republicans and Democrats about how to allocate transportation funding, but that seems beside the point.

In the past, funds were allocated to projects based on Minnesota Department of Transportation formulas for need and road conditions. The GOP caucus in its last transportation bill leaned toward having more direct input on road projects. Democrats say that would politicize road funding and set a dangerous precedent.

While those disagreements may be worthy of debate, halting federal funds for road projects that are waiting for them seems to be a disservice to taxpayers and inconsistent with good governing.

—Mankato Free Press, Oct. 29