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Senators lean toward gas, license tab increases

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators rejected Gov. Tim Pawlenty's transportation-funding plan Friday night, opting instead to increase gasoline taxes and license tab fees.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators rejected Gov. Tim Pawlenty's transportation-funding plan Friday night, opting instead to increase gasoline taxes and license tab fees.

The Senate Democratic plan passed 35-28.

"The problem is we need to get some additional resources into the system," Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said.

Johnson, the Senate transportation chairman, said the Republican governor's plan that borrows money to build roads costs Minnesotans too much in interest. "It does little for transit, it does nothing for local roads, local bridges," he said of the Pawlenty proposal that failed 36-27.

After defeating one Republican proposal after another, senators passed the Johnson bill as debate stretched beyond three hours. The measure would spend $4.4 billion on transportation in the next two-year budget, including $2.1 billion in new funding.

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The biggest difference between the Senate bill and proposals backed by House Republicans and Pawlenty is that the GOP plans add money to transportation by borrowing $550 million for the next five years. The Senate would raise gasoline taxes 5 cents a gallon and boost tab fees on most newer and more expensive vehicles.

"The reason we should pass this bill is that it is balanced," Johnson said before the vote. "It is balanced between roads and transit. It is balanced between greater Minnesota and the metropolitan area."

New revenues in the Senate bill for 2004-05 include $200 million in tab fees and $319 million in gasoline taxes. Seventy-two percent of the new money would go to state and local highways and 28 percent to transit.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate requires rest areas to remain open, would not allow the state to reduce its snow-plowing activity and keep existing road-striping in effect.

Foreign citizen driver's licenses would expire when their visas expire.

Also is the bill is a proposal by Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, to allow law enforcement officers to stop vehicles based on whether occupants are wearing seat belts. Current law allows them to issue seat belt tickets only if drivers are stopped for another violation.

Senators defeated 35-20 an amendment Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls, offered to tack a $25 surcharge on all fines.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

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