On May 24, DFL Governor Tim Walz signed the One Minnesota budget, which includes $1.3 billion in funding for state transportation, several transportation finance policy provisions along with a fuel tax increase, vehicle registration tax increase, tab fees increase and an increase in sales tax for motor vehicles.
Transportation’s Wide-ranging Policy Implications
As local and the state governments continue to debate racial justice issues, transportation and transportation funding are crucial. In 2022, for example, U.S. Department of Transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, launched a $1 billion pilot program aimed at increasing racial equity in road design, with a specific focus on connecting historically marginalized communities impacted negatively by road projects. Transportation policy and funding decisions reach every area of the state, every citizen in the state and have implications for multiple issues.
In public testimony, Kate Lynn Snyder, a lobbyist with Education Minnesota, spoke against the auto parts sales tax in the bill — arguing it would mean that in more financially challenging times for the state, the tax would protect transportation funding at the expense of other areas of the state’s budget.
“Our members, particularly our school bus drivers, drive on the same roads as everybody else,” she said. “I am here today because every year teachers, personal care attendants, colleges, and the elderly have to make their best argument in front of legislators about their needs, and yes sometimes that works out in favor of education but our students have suffered from two decades of the state not keeping up with inflation,” said Snyder. “There are no taxes or fees dedicated to our students, to our elderly, to maintaining facilities of Minnesota State colleges. Next time there is a recession, funding from the auto parts sales tax won’t prevent cuts to our children and our elderly Minnesotans.”
Devin Bruce, public affairs coordinator with the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE), also spoke in public testimony for the bill.
“We would like to voice our support for the new revenue streams being proposed in this bill, including the Metro Area Transit Sales Tax and service delivery fee, as well as the increases to the current taxes and fees already in law,” said Bruce who ultimately spoke against the auto parts sales tax, saying the recommended tax was “poor fiscal policy.”
According to an article from the Minnesota House Media Services, the final transportation budget agreement includes the auto parts tax.
The signed budget is primarily made up of one-time funding items, and according to legislators, this is the first major state transportation investment in the past 30 years. On a recent episode of Capitol Report, a project of the Minnesota Legislature, Senator Scott Dibble (DFL–District 61), chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, discussed the importance of sustained transportation funding rather than the one-time funding passed this year.
“It’s a good start but the important thing is to make sure we have some sustained, ongoing revenue that supports the overall infrastructure of roads, bridges, as well as our transit system,” said Dibble.
Moving Forward Statewide
Here are some of the financial investments and policy provisions included in the bill:
- $50 million for the Corridors of Commerce program, originally formed in 2013, aimed at supporting highway investment programs that would allow for increased economic growth. A list of previous Corridors of Commerce projects can be found online and include a reconstruction project on Snelling Avenue and a lane expansion between Rice Street and Lexington Avenue in St. Paul.
- A study of climate mitigation and adaptation efforts at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport focusing on several goals to be met by 2030 related to:
- A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
- A reduction in per-passenger water usage.
- Waste diversion.
- A requirement that the Metropolitan Council study public transportation post-COVID, though no funding is provided and the transportation omnibus bill requires that the Metropolitan Council pay for the study itself.
- A new retroactive driver’s license reinstatement provision that would require the development of a remote application process for driver’s license reinstatement.
- A requirement that the Blue Line light rail project extension office hold quarterly community meetings in the impacted Minneapolis communities of Willard-Hay, Jordan, Lyn-Park and Near North. The bill also requires that, by July 1, 2023, the project office — working with community groups — must have developed an engagement framework.
- A requirement that the Metropolitan Council expand pedestrian and bicycle trails alongside specific routes laid out in the legislation, working alongside the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority, the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, local government and impacted property owners.
- “Subject to available funds,” Metropolitan Council is tasked with developing a pilot program aimed at expanding the work of the Metro Mobility Program. A report on the pilot program would have to be completed by Feb. 1, 2026.
- Using sales tax revenue, the Metropolitan Council is tasked with developing a pilot program aimed at implementing transit fare elimination along routes laid out in the bill, and the completion of a report studying transit fare elimination by Feb. 15, 2025.
- The establishment of a Metropolitan Governance Task Force to study and provide recommendations related to the management of the Metropolitan Council.
- Nearly $26 million in funding, over the 2024 and 2025 budget years, for the Safe Routes to School program aimed at increasing transportation and transit infrastructure safety around specific schools in the state, as well as education related to transportation and transit safety around Minnesota schools. Schools would need to apply for funding, as would cities, that also have their own pot of program-specific funding. No particular schools or programs are named in the bill, outside of the line item in the appropriations section.
- Over $2.5 million in funding for the Department of Public Safety’s Vehicle Crimes Unit, which investigates crimes related to vehicles, including motor vehicle theft.
- The establishment of an Advisory Council on Transit Safety meant to advise, assist and make recommendations to the commissioners of the Department of Public Safety, Department of Transportation and Department of Health related to projects and programs aimed at improving transit safety in Minnesota.
Many provisions of the bill will become law on July 1, when the 2024 budget year begins.