March 20, 2019 11:43 AM
Gov. Tim Walz took his push for a 20-cent gas tax increase outside the State Capitol to make the debate less of an "ideological" battle and one that is more "practical."
"We have put this in front of the legislature and I'm here to tell you right now the alternative response of 'no' is not a plan," Walz said at a news conference in Anoka, not far from a railway crossing with a highway that is one of the most dangerous in the state. "'No' will not build this [railroad] overpass. 'No' will not make our roads safer. 'No' will not fix the potholes and 'no' is what you've got for the last 50 years."
However, in the process of trying to convince legislators, especially Senate Republican, he offended one of his possible Republican allies. Sen. Jim Abeler of Anoka was upset he was not invited to the governor's news conference even though it was four blocks from his house.
Abeler wasn't notified about the news conference until late Monday afternoon, but wasn't invited. He wrote back to the governor's office and stated his disapproval.
"Thanks for the heads up," Abeler wrote in an email addressed to one of the governor's aides that was obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. "fyi you may not know that I live less than a half mile from the rail crossing where he is doing his press conference. I find it hard to believe that the Governor would think that coming to my backyard like this would be taken as a sign of respect. In fact, it is just the opposite... particularly since the last minute notice you just sent was not even an invite. He would probably want to know."
If he had been there, Abeler says he likely would have said a gas tax increase is not necessary to fix the railway crossing in Anoka.
"Saying the gas tax is the only way to do this railroad crossing is simply untrue," Abeler told KSTP by phone on Tuesday. He says it could be done with bonding dollars, existing revenue and some federal dollars.
Walz proposes phasing in the 20-cent gas tax increase over two years and then increasing it with the rate of inflation each year after. It would raise billions of dollars he says could be used on projects around the state, including up to $100 million for pavement and bridge reconstruction on Highway 94 between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Despite being upset about the governor "campaigning" for a gas tax increase in his district, Abeler said while he's adamantly opposed to a 20-cent increase, he would consider a 10-cent increase.
"That's closer to possible," Abeler said, calling the 20-cent increase "impossible." After an initial interview with 5 Eyewitness News, Abeler called back to clarify his comments and said the governor "should have gone with 10 cents which is more reasonable. However, while anything is possible, were the vote today, I would not vote for 10 cents."
Abeler said most of his constitutuents are not gas tax supporters.
"There's gotta be money...we had a surplus didn't we?," wondered Jennifer Asmussen of Ramsey as she sat in traffic, waiting for potholes to be filled. "Can't we get the money from someplace else instead of another gas tax? I think we could."
Updated: March 20, 2019 11:43 AM
Created: March 19, 2019 05:10 PM
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