Walz broadens campaign to pass gas tax hike, faces continued opposition from GOP

The Democrat took his pitch on the road and took to Twitter to drum up public support for his transportation plan.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, that he will need to look over his just-released budget to see how to adjust it to match a new lower-than-expected state revenue forecast. Don Davis / Forum News Service
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, that he will need to look over his just-released budget to see how to adjust it to match a new lower-than-expected state revenue forecast. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz this week sent Senate Republicans a Wall Street Journal story highlighting the national business community's support for a federal gas tax increase.

The Democrat on Tuesday, March 19, held a press conference in Anoka to highlight one of the most dangerous intersections in the state.

A day later, he launched a campaign on Twitter to highlight potholes across the state in an effort to rally support for his proposal to levy a 20 cent gas tax hike to fund road and bridge repairs.

With two months left in the legislative session and bipartisan support for the proposal missing at the Capitol, Walz made the unorthodox moves to get the public and Senate Republicans on board with his transportation plan.

“What's happening here is there is movement in every sector of the country on this except for Senate Republicans,” Walz said Thursday. “I’m going out there and trying to make the case to them, come to the table and talk to me. Let’s start to have the conversation."

But the tactics didn't seem to take as the governor's transportation package got its first hearing in the House Transportation Finance and Policy Division on Thursday.

Republicans remained firm in their opposition to the tax hike on gasoline, which would be 70 percent more than the existing sales tax. And they said lawmakers should instead look to a projected budget surplus before increasing taxes.

"Minnesotans understand that we already pay enough at the pump and the excessive taxes and fees that the governor is proposing would disproportionately harm our middle- and lower-income neighbors," Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville, said. "Instead of moving us forward, the expensive Democrat plan would put Minnesota families and drivers in reverse.”

GOP lawmakers on the House panel also raised concerns about the proposal's lack of funds to help support city street repairs.

City leaders and engineers from around the state also rallied at the Capitol Thursday to request additional funds to help maintain city streets. They asked lawmakers to authorize cities to establish street improvement districts and set up grants to help share the financial burden of trunk highway projects.

They brought chunks of asphalt from potholes around the state to illustrate the struggles they face at the local level.

Passing the larger transportation plan this year, complete with the phased-in gasoline tax increase, is critical to getting started on road and bridge projects and to avoid a funding gap, Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Walz said. The state will face an expected $6 billion funding gap in the next 10 years and an $18 billion gap in the next 20 years.

"I can’t stress it enough," Walz said. "‘No’ is not a plan, and that’s all I’m getting."