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Coalition seeks money for Minnesota transportation

ST. PAUL — Transportation advocates have compiled one of the largest coalitions ever to fight for state money, but they do not know how much they will seek or where they would get it.

Move MN launched a campaign Thursday to persuade state legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton to boost funding for highways, bridges, bike paths, transit and other transportation needs for the good of the state.

“We know that vibrant communities must be built on high-quality transportation systems,” Ann Mulholland of the Minnesota Community Foundation told reporters.

Several other speakers said essentially the same thing, but coalition members would reveal little about the price tag for their askings or how they would suggest getting the money.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said that in this election year it likely will be difficult to persuade lawmakers to raise transportation taxes and fees.

However, Margaret Donahoe of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance reminded people that the last infusion of transportation money came in the election year of 2008, when legislators raised the motor vehicle fuel tax in a politically charged debate. She said politicians never are hurt by voting to raise money for transportation projects.

Donahoe said fixing bridges and building new ones in places like Red Wing and Hastings never would have occurred without the 2008 funding boost.

As for where state officials could find money, she suggested that it come from funds that only can be spent on transportation, such as the gasoline tax and license fees. General revenue increases, such as in income tax, would be avoided because that could be diverted to other uses.

While groups have combined efforts in the past to seek more transportation money, Donahoe said there have never been this many groups working with one another.

“We are really seeing a more diverse group coming together,” she said.

The groups range from those supporting more bicycle paths to religious organizations. City and county organizations also belong. So do conservation and farm groups.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is not among them. However, there are some individual businesses in the coalition, and Audrey Britton of Small Business Minnesota said her group is among supporters.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is more efficient today than in the past, Donahoe said. For example, she added, the Hastings Mississippi River bridge originally was expected to cost $300 million, but the final bill was closer to $150 million.

Still, she said, being more efficient falls far short of producing the money needed.

Executive Director Barb Thoman of Transit for Livable Communities said transportation needs go beyond state programs.

Thoman used Duluth as an example, citing an expanded bicycle path system in the city as helping attract young residents.

“Duluth, like other cities, cannot do this by themselves,” she said, adding that state aid is needed.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.