Legislative session on cruise control

From March 30-April 8, the Minnesota Legislature will be on break to spend time at home in their districts meeting with constituents. Here are a few updates related to Highway 14 and transportation issues at the State Capitol. If you have the opportunity to speak with your legislators while they are at home on break, be sure to emphasize the need for additional funding for Corridors of Commerce to help ensure we have the best chance of fixing 14 now!

Corridors Project Announcements Weeks Away – Pass Resolutions Today!

The Highway 14 Partnership is eagerly awaiting the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s announcement of which projects will be funded with the $400 million in trunk highway bonding and cash the 2017 Legislature appropriated to the Corridors of Commerce program. Although MnDOT has not specified a date for its project announcements, indications are that it could come as soon as the third week of April. With that in mind, MnDOT has announced that local governments and chambers of commerce that plan to submit resolutions in support of projects must do so by April 16.

As our members are aware, Highway 14 expansion projects are among those in the mix for a share of that funding. If your local government has yet to pass a resolution in support of Highway 14 Expansion, please contact Shane Zahrt at SAZahrt@flaherty-hood.com. If you have already passed and submitted your local government’s resolution, rest assured that your voice will be heard in the process.

Capitol Update

State legislators are also anxiously awaiting the announcement of Corridors of Commerce project awards. Many legislators invested significant time and effort during the 2017 session into revamping and funding the program in hopes that a share of it will go to projects in their areas.

Until it becomes clear how various projects score under the Corridors of Commerce program criteria, the Highway 14 Partnership and many legislators have been wary of making any additional tweaks to the program. More broadly, the passage of last year’s Transportation Finance bill has moved the transportation conversation away from the need for additional funding during this biennium. This has meant that the discussions at the Capitol have largely been consumed by other issues, such as efforts to address MNLARS—the state’s problematic license and registration software.

That said, expect the conversation around transportation funding to pick up as session proceeds and a possible bonding bill takes center stage. The Highway 14 Partnership will pursue any and all practical opportunities to fund Highway 14 expansion projects, and should the legislature show an appetite to further modify the Corridors of Commerce program, we will continue to deliver this simple message: If Corridors of Commerce doesn’t work for Highways like 14, then Corridors of Commerce doesn’t work.

Constitutional Amendment to Dedicate General Fund Money to Transportation Heard in Senate

On Monday, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) introduced legislation that would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2018 General Election Ballot to dedicate certain existing general fund revenues to transportation purposes. The bill received a hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday. Numerous groups testified in favor and against the proposal, with the Chamber of Commerce, Business Partnership, and construction trade unions leading the charge in favor of the bill, and education, health and human services, and other groups concerned about permanently redirecting general fund dollars testifying in opposition.

It is important to note that proponents of the bill have mentioned the Corridors of Commerce program as one possible beneficiary of such an amendment. However, as it is currently drafted, the bill would have no direct impact on the Corridors of Commerce program. While increasing the overall funding that is received by MnDOT each year would result in an eventual increase in the state’s trunk highway bonding capacity, there is no guarantee that future trunk highway bonds would be issued for Corridors of Commerce projects as a result.

The bill passed the Senate Transportation Committee by a vote of 8-7, on a party-line vote with the exception of GOP Senator Bruce Anderson (R-Buffalo Township) who joined every DFL member of the committee in voting no. The bill will now be in the hands of the Senate Rules Committee, and will likely need to make additional committee stops before heading to the Senate Floor. So far, no companion bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

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