Gas tax hike not in favor in Minn.

. MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – There’s more opposition than support for a new state gas tax to pay for transportation repairs, according to a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.

The poll found that 50 percent opposed raising the gas tax, while 46 percent were in favor. Even more respondents opposed a special session to deal with transportation problems in the wake of the Minneapolis bridge collapse, with 53 percent saying it was unnecessary.

Forty-two said they thought there should be a special session.

The poll surveyed 802 adults in Minnesota between Sept. 18 and 23. It has a margin of sampling error of 4 percentage points plus or minus.

It also found support for both Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Democratic-led Legislature for their respective responses to the bridge collapse. Sixty-eight percent approved of Pawlenty’s response to the disaster, and 58 percent approved of the Legislature’s response.

At 20 cents on the gallon, Minnesota’s gas tax is among the lowest in the nation, and is likely to figure prominently in the debate over how to fund bridge and other transportation improvements. The debate has intensified since a revelation last week that replacing the Interstate 35W bridge will cost considerably more than early estimates, and will probably require a substantial infusion of state money.

The poll asked if people would accept higher gasoline taxes “to pay for increased inspection and repair of bridges.” Responses varied most by education and party affiliation, with college graduates and Democrats more likely to support a gas tax increase.

The poll results surprised some transportation experts.

“I would have thought the bridge collapsing might have been a pretty good indicator that something needed to happen, but it’s still muddy waters,” said Lee Munnich, who specializes in transportation policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

He said politicians who support a gas tax hike haven’t yet made a persuasive case that routine but critical maintenance needs more money – and that it won’t all come from the federal government.

“I think a lot of the debate since the bridge collapsed has sort of left people thinking, ‘Well, maybe we’ve got enough money from the federal government, maybe we don’t need a gas tax increase,'” Munnich said.