Pawlenty rips DFL for gas tax increase

7:50 AM, Feb 27, 2008   |    comments
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Governor Pawlenty ripped DFL lawmakers on Tuesday for over-riding his veto of the transportation package, which comes with a $6.6 billion price tag and a gasoline tax increase of at least five and a half cents. The Governor predicted the tax increase would be a big November election issue, and that it could lead to Republicans re-taking control of both the state House and Senate. Pawlenty says he expects a "tax revolt" among "hard working Minnesotans" against the gas tax. "They had their day yesterday," Pawlenty said. "But now taxpayers will have their day." He also said the bill will cause further budget problems, when the state issues its budget forecast on Thursday. That forecast was already expected to show a shortfall. The Minnesota Legislature voted Monday to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a $6.6 billion bill, paving the way for higher gas taxes and other fees to bring in more money for roads, bridges and transit. The critical vote came in the House, where six Republicans broke ranks to defy the governor and provide the two-thirds majority needed to override. The final vote was 91-41. Related: How they voted in the House
The Senate vote later in the day, 47-20, was assured since Democrats have a veto-proof majority. Related: How they voted in the Senate
The gas tax increase will arrive quickly. It will rise two cents a gallon on April 1, another one half cent on August 1, and another three cents on October 1. It could rise another 3 1/2 cents to pay off road bonds in the next five years. Minnesota's gasoline tax is currently 20 cents per gallon. The average state gasoline tax is 28.6 cents per gallon, according to API, a national trade association that represents the oil and natural gas industry. None of Pawlenty's 36 previous vetoes had been overturned, including two before on transportation proposals. Overriding a governor's veto is extremely rare in Minnesota. In the 60 years from 1939 to 1999, there were only four successful overrides. There were nine during Jesse Ventura's four years in office. The legislature tried once before, and failed, to override a Pawlenty veto in 2003. In a conference call, the governor reacted coolly. "The DFL majority has done what it does best, which is to raise taxes on Minnesota families," he said. "I'm more than happy to say this is a DFL product and a DFL result with a few Republicans who helped them because I wouldn't want to take any credit for this piece of work." The House vote came after several hours of debate, and with Republicans facing the wrath of their party for defecting. Rep. Shelley Madore, DFL-Apple Valley, said before the vote that she couldn't help but think of a man from her district -- Peter Hausmann -- who died in the Minneapolis bridge collapse, leaving four children behind. "Is his life worth a nickel a gallon? I'm telling you it is," she said. Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, urged his colleagues to stand with Pawlenty. "If you reach forward on this bill and you punch the green button," Severson said, "what you are saying to the taxpayers is, `I'm reaching deep into your pocket and pulling out all the green you got in your wallet and I'll leave you the change."' In the House, Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, was among the Republicans voting for an override. He said his vote came down to concern over the safety of the roads. "We have so many unsafe roads in my area with twists and turns-- on a rainy night I'm scared to drive down the roads," he said before the vote. "The people who die on those roads are teenagers in single-car accidents. If we don't do something we will have some kid's blood on our hands." In addition to the gas tax increase, people with new-model vehicles face higher registration fees for a longer period than they would under the current license tab schedule. State rental car fees would go from 3 percent to 5 percent. And shoppers in the seven-county metropolitan area would see the sales tax rise by 0.25 percentage point, with the money raised through that tax going for mass transit projects. The deadly Interstate 35W bridge collapse put fresh attention on Minnesota's infrastructure problems, so lawmakers put $600 million into the bill to fix the state's worst bridges. Dozens of sign-carrying supporters of the transportation bill swarmed outside the House chamber before the vote. Among them was construction worker Oscar Sletten of Owatonna, whose sign showed the wreckage of the collapsed bridge. "This is what happens when you ignore it," Sletten said. DFL leaders were eager to take another run at overriding Pawlenty on road spending after a different transportation plan failed to survive his veto in the final moments of the last session. As the vote approached, Democratic House Majority Leader Tony Sertich insisted the goal was more policy than political. "It's not about the governor. It's not about us," Sertich said Monday. "It's really about the issue. It's about making progress on an issue that's 20 years in the making." The transportation bill zoomed through the Legislature in less than two weeks, as backers trimmed about $2 billion from the package to attract support. A key move: Cutting the metro sales tax to a quarter-cent from the original half-cent proposal, which got the influential Minnesota Chamber of Commerce on board. GOP Minority Leader Marty Seifert said his caucus will review staffing and committee positions held by the six Republicans who broke ranks. He said Rep. Rod Hamilton resigned as lead Republican on the Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Committee before the vote. The six could also face trouble getting the GOP endorsement in their races for re-election. Abeler said his endorsing convention is coming up in 12 days. Abeler was philosophical about it: "This actually is evidence of what kind of member I am, that I'm willing to vote for what I believe."

(Copyright 2008 by KARE-11 and The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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