Walz pick for transportation commissioner signals gas tax increase

December 20, 2018 09:42 AM

Minnesota Gov.-elect Tim Walz repeatedly pledged to consider a gas tax increase to provide more stable funding for highways and bridges.

And his pick to be the state's next transportation commissioner signals he's serious about making good on that campaign promise.


"She was responsible for the passing of the last transportation funding increase in Minnesota," Walz said in announcing the appointment of Margaret Anderson Kelliher as transportation commissioner Tuesday.

RELATED: Walz names first state agency heads

She's a former DFL House Speaker who presided over a historic override of a gas tax veto by former Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty in 2008.

"One thing that really attracted me to wanting to do this is their vision of one Minnesota," Anderson Kelliher said of the Walz administration. 

Part of that vision is increasing the gas tax to keep up with demand for transportation funding.

"The gas tax is an important part of the tools in the tool box," Anderson Kelliher said Tuesday. "It's still one of our bigger tools."

In 2008, the Minnesota Legislature passed a $6.6 billion dollar transportation funding plan - the centerpiece being an 8.5-cent increase in the gas tax phased in over a few years.

Walz hasn't yet said how much he might seek in 2019.

"The Kelliher appointment tells you this is a very high-profile priority for the governor, and he wants top talent pushing this priority," Carleton College political analyst Steven Schier said.

However, Schier said a vote to increase the gas tax is politically difficult for Republicans and Democrats.

He said newly-elected Democrats in suburban districts that remain more fiscally conservative could be problematic.

"Will these Democrats be willing to vote for a gas tax increase when a large majority of workers in their districts are commuting," he said.

Walz hasn't set a timeline for making a transportation funding proposal, but the process is likely to at least get started in the 2019 session.

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Tom Hauser

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