House, Senate pass transportation bill

The bill goes to Gov. Tim Pawlenty who has three days to either pass or veto the $6.7 billion package.

Jake Grovum

The Minnesota House and Senate both passed a comprehensive transportation bill Thursday night.

The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who will have three days – excluding Sunday – to either pass or veto the bill.

After hours of debate on Thursday, House passed the bill 89 votes to 44, falling one vote short of the two-thirds needed to override an expected veto by Pawlenty. One House vote, Connie Ruth, R-Owatanna, was absent.

The Senate passed the bill by 47 to 20, which is enough to override a potential veto.

The $6.7 billion bill includes a gas tax increase which will be the state’s first in 20 years. The initial two cents go into effect the day after enactment, and another three cents will be added Oct. 1.

The transportation bill has been the premier issue in the Legislature since the session started last week, and Pawlenty has made no secret of his opposition to raising taxes.

A number of House Republicans were also hesitant to support the bill. But legislators decreased a metropolitan-area sales tax from 0.5 percent to 0.25 percent, leading the Chamber of Commerce to support the bill.

The bill authorizes counties in the metropolitan area to impose the 0.25 percent transportation sales tax without referendum.

One Senate spokesman called the Chamber of Commerce’s backing of the bill a breakthrough in its debate.

The bill dedicates $1.8 billion for highway projects and $600 million to replace critically fractured bridges around the state.

The Interstate 35W bridge collapse was the spark that set off much of the transportation debate around the state, and Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, reminded the House of that.

“On August 1, 2007, the transportation debate in this state changed,” he said on the House floor. “We haven’t lifted a finger in this state, and it’s time we did.”