State budget deal slowly coming together as transportation bill heads to Senate

The Minnesota Legislature is nearly a third of the way toward sending all budget bills to the desk of Governor Tim Walz after passing a transportation funding bill.

The House author of the bill, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said there is an urgency to get the bill to the governor by Thursday so highway construction contractors know whether to start shutting nearly 200 projects down around the state.

"Let’s get it done," he urged House members. "Let’s get it signed. Let’s get transportation out of the way. Let’s ease the mind of these contractors that are really concerned. Really, really concerned about the implications of us not passing this bill in a timely way."

The bill passed 112-21 with broad bipartisan support and now awaits a vote of the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday. House Republicans were glad the bill doesn’t increase any taxes or fees but said it should’ve included money for more security on public transit.

"We are sitting here right now in the midst of a non-emergency when it comes to COVID," said Rep. John Heinrich, R-Anoka. "But there is a pandemic of crime and Minnesotans want to be safe."

"There are some major things left out of this bill," added Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska. "No. 1, transit safety. We’ve been talking about transit safety in the transportation committee for at least four or five years, probably longer and we’re not dealing with it in any way, shape or form in this bill."

Hornstein promised it would be addressed in the next session. He also hopes the legislature will reconsider higher gas taxes, a metro sales tax and license tab fees in the future.

"On our side, of course we wanted to have dedicated, long-term, sustainable funding for transportation," Hornstein said. "That is the best and most reliable way to fund our roads, bridges and transit systems. That, unfortunately, fell off in negotiations."

Once the Senate sends the transportation bill to the governor, it will be the fifth of 15 budget bills lawmakers need to finish by June 30. Bills related to commerce, climate and energy, higher education, agriculture and legacy funding for the environment and arts are all on the governor’s desk so far.