Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed HF 1555, its omnibus transportation bill. While most of the headlines about the bill have focused on the 20 cent gas tax increase and other transportation-related tax and fee increases, the highlight for Highway 14 is the $300 million in trunk highway bonds for the Corridors of Commerce program. The bill would also reauthorize the $25 million per year trunk highway cash appropriation for the program. The Senate’s bill, SF 1093, includes no additional bonding for the program, and would actually cut that $25 million per year for Corridors of Commerce.
The U.S. Highway 14 Partnership submitted a letter to the House floor, which Rep. Jeff Brand presented to the chamber, in support of the Corridors of Commerce funding included in the bill. While we have taken issue with aspects of the current program and been frustrated by the lack of action to address the program’s underlying project selection criteria, Corridors has been essential to Highway 14’s progress in recent years. Given that the legislature has declined to consider direct appropriations or other avenues for funding this year, the Corridors funding in the House bill is our best chance at continuing that progress during this year’s legislative session. Both the Mankato Free Press and the New Ulm Journal recently wrote editorials calling on the Legislature and the Governor to do what it takes to fund Highway 14 between Nicollet and New Ulm.
The Senate bill is expected to be brought to the floor for a vote on Wednesday. The Senate’s bill would not raise significant new revenue compared to current law. In fact, the only new revenues the bill would raise come from new and increased fees on electric vehicles and hybrid-electric vehicles. But with few of those vehicles on the road, the total dollars raised by those provisions number in the thousands, not the millions. After both the House and Senate bills have passed, a conference committee will be formed to work out the differences . . . and the two bills could not be more different. Minnesota Public Radio has more on different approaches taken by the House and Senate HERE.
With just three weeks remaining in the legislative session, it will be essential for U.S. Highway 14 Partnership members to stay active and push legislators to fund Highway 14, whether by direct appropriation or by providing additional funding for Corridors of Commerce. Stay tuned as the legislature moves toward conference committee action.