Legislature overrides governor’s veto, passes transportation bill

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On a 91-41 vote, the Minnesota House voted to override Governor Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a comprehensive transportation bill and sent the measure to the Senate, where it quickly passed 47-20.

In the first major showdown of the legislative session between lawmakers and the governor, several House Republicans joined the DFL majority Monday afternoon in backing the $6.7 billion transportation package to create jobs, increase safety and reduce gridlock on the state’s roads. Citing his “no tax” pledge, Pawlenty had vetoed the bill Friday, less than 24 hours after it was originally approved by the Legislature.

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“HF 2800 is re-passed, notwithstanding the veto of the governor,” House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher proclaimed after the vote.

The six Republicans that refused to side with the governor were Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), Rep. Ron Erhardt (R-Edina), Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), Rep. Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport), Rep. Neil W. Peterson (R-Bloomington) and Rep. Kathy Tingelstad (R-Andover).

Funding will come primarily from adding five cents a gallon to the gas tax – the first increase in 20 years.

Opponents called the bill “a massive tax increase,” but supporters argued that people are already paying.

“Our trend in funding transportation has been from a user fee onto the property tax . . . More than twice as much is coming from the property tax as the gas tax into our transportation system,” said Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.

“There’re two sides of the ledger,” she noted. “There’s what we pay, but there’s also a tremendous benefit” in terms of safety and less gridlock.

At times the debate turned emotional. Rep. Shelley Madore, DFL-Apple Valley, said she felt particular need to take action after the collapse of the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River.

“The bridge went down on Aug. 1 and a gentleman from my district died,” she said. “If you’re asking me, ‘Is his life worth a nickel a gallon?’ I’m telling you it is.”

Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, responded, “There is no relationship between the greatest tax increase in Minnesota history and the tragedy that occurred last summer.”

The comprehensive transportation bill had support from a wide variety of organizations, from the labor movement and transit advocates to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the state’s soybean growers.

The DFL-controlled Senate has a “veto-proof majority,” ensuring swift passage of the override after the House took action.

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