We're Disappointed. Are You?
Six weeks ago, the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed, killing 13, injuring hundreds and disrupting millions of lives. Minnesota's elected state leaders, to the person, pledged immediate attention and resources. A special legislative session was suggested almost as soon as the bridge collapse dust cleared.
This afternoon, at 5 p.m., the Minnesota Legislature will convene in special session, only addressing flood relief for Southeastern Minnesota. It's as though the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge never collapsed.
While it's clear that the flood relief is welcome, where did the commitment to transportation go? Why have Minnesota's leaders dropped their bi-partisan push for prompt attention to hundreds of other structurally deficient spans around the state?
It's a shame. Most of the blame belongs to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who quickly qualified his apparent U-turn on tax policy in the wake of the bridge tragedy to the point of meaninglessness. His bottom line, expressed to legislative leaders, was that the gasoline tax, which all Minnesotans pay to fund roads and bridges, could only be raised if the income tax, which falls heaviest on the wealthy, were cut.
Not coincidentally, that would reduce state investments in education and health care, which are ordinary Minnesotans' vital thoroughfares to the upper tax brackets.
Questions of tax fairness aside, the biggest losers from the apparent collapse of negotiations toward a special session are folks in Greater Minnesota.
There are hundreds more bad bridges in rural Minnesota than in the metro area. But comprehensive transportation and bonding bills that would finance long-neglected repair and replacement of them, such as the 2007 bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Erhardt (R-Edina), are off the table until next year.
Gone, too, is the hope of many homeowners in Greater Minnesota for property tax relief via increased local government aid. According to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, 70 municipalities outside the Twin Cities, places such as Bemidji and Worthington, would reap more than $25 million from revival of the bipartisan tax bill that won large legislative majorities last spring. For example, the bill's increased state aid would allow Winona to slash its proposed 16 percent increase in property taxes all the way to 2 percent.
Pawlenty has said he supports the bill's closing of corporate tax loopholes and the relief for local property taxpayers that it would fund, but he vetoed those provisions last spring in a side dispute over how to forecast the state's budget.
Whatever the governor's motivation, the winners again were big businesses and the wealthy and the losers were ordinary Minnesota taxpayers. They, by the way, have been forking over more than $1 billion a year in property taxes just for local roads and bridges.
The deterioration of Minnesota's roads and bridges reached a crisis stage long before Aug. 1. Bipartisan legislators responded with comprehensive transportation funding in 2005 and this year, only to be rebuffed by Pawlenty vetoes. The need, however, remains more pressing than ever.
What's your view? Click here to send us an e-mail. We're going to share your voices and your special session perspectives, starting this afternoon.