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Don't expect Legislature to pass a quick pothole fix

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This is one of Minnesota's worst years for potholes in years, but it's looking less likely that lawmakers will approve a quick fix, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

State and local officials say they're fielding dozens of calls from residents complaining about the poor condition of streets and highways in Minnesota.

"People get it that our roads are so deteriorated, they can't withstand a harsh winter," said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.

But the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton are not inclined to approve a large funding plan to fix deteriorating roads and bridges this session, according to the Pioneer Press, because they're reluctant to raise the taxes needed to pay for it.

A House committee approved a $550 million transportation funding package earlier this month, which includes a new 5 percent sales tax on wholesale fuels to pay for roads and bridges. The new fuel tax would add about 12 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline.

The bill is opposed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and by Republicans in the Legislature. So House Speaker Paul Thissen said the measure is all but dead, the Pioneer Press reports.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he also opposes the measure. He said in an interview with the Pioneer Press Thursday that he wants to take a more comprehensive approach to transportation funding.

"I have thought all along that this requires a long discussion in a non-election year," he said. "Next year would be a better time to deal with this."

Minnesota's highway system has more than 140,000 miles of state and local roads, and half of the pavement is more than 50 years old.

Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle told legislators last month “a perfect storm is coming” in transportation funding, as revenues cannot keep up with the costs associated with building and maintaining the state’s roads, bridges and transit systems.

MnDOT recently announced a plan to spend $18 billion on highways and bridges over the next 20 years, even though the state has $30 billion in needs. The proposal includes several recommendations for raising the money, including a 6.5 percent wholesale fuel sales tax and increases in license tab fees.

While not committing to Zelle's plan, Gov. Dayton said he hopes it "starts a conversation."

"Almost everybody is in agreement that we need to improve our highway and public transit systems, but nobody really wants to pay for it," Dayton said to the Pioneer Press.

Lawmakers last passed a comprehensive transportation funding package in 2008, the year after the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis brought the issue of deficient roads and bridges to a head.

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