Legislative Update: Ambitious proposals, status quo results

The 2019 legislative session adjourned around 6:50 AM on Saturday, after a one-day special session to sort out the state budget. This update is a brief wrap up of issues relevant to Highway 14. A full recap and report will be presented at our annual summer meeting in July. Details of that meeting will be provided soon.

The beginning of the 2019 session was packed with ambitious proposals. Governor Tim Walz and the House DFL entered the session vowing to put forward a transportation package that would increase Minnesota’s gas tax and close our state’s transportation funding gap over the next 20 years. In February, the Governor released the details of the plan: a proposed 20 cent per gallon, along with increases tab fees and motor vehicle sales taxes, to raise an additional $18 billion over the next two decades.

Corridors of Commerce: House proposes funding increase, Governor’s plan silent, Senate proposes cuts

The three different transportation funding proposals floating around at the Capitol would have meant different fates for Corridors of Commerce. First, although the Governor’s transportation plan included significant new revenues for transportation, it did not direct any of those dollars to Corridors of Commerce. Instead, the administration was hopeful that the new funding flowing into the transportation system would enable them to fund a number of projects—including Highway 14—within the next 10 years through MnDOT’s regular construction program. That said, the Governor’s plan would have left in place the $25M/year cash appropriation for Corridors of Commerce that passed in 2017. The Governor used his Mankato-area roots to help elevate the need to invest in roads like Highway 14 by speaking extensively about the project, including in his first State of the State address. In highlighting the need for additional transportation funding, Walz spoke passionately about the loss of a personal friend who had died on Highway 14.

House Transportation Chair Frank Hornstein introduced the House plan, which would’ve allotted $300M for Corridors of Commerce through new trunk highway bonds and kept $25M/year in cash flowing into the program. However, the ability for the state to support that level of new bonding was contingent on the rest of the funding package passing the legislature. We were also grateful that the House went out of its way to highlight Highway 14 through a field hearing of the House Transportation Committee held on March 8. You can revisit the Mankato Free Press’s coverage of that hearing by clicking HERE.

In the Senate, the Highway 14 Partnership ended up playing more defense than offense. The Senate’s transportation package, released in early April, proposed cutting the $25M/year appropriation to the Corridors of Commerce program. The Highway 14 Partnership pushed back — thank you to all of our members who responded to our Action Alert and contacted legislators to fight against the proposed cuts.

Final deal leaves transportation behind

With just one day left in the regular legislative session, Governor Walz, Majority Leader Gazelka and Speaker Hortman announced a compromise on the framework of a state budget. Under the deal, all proposals to increase transportation funding were left on the cutting room floor, and the status quo prevailed. With the failure of the broader transportation funding package, new funding Corridors of Commerce funding was left without a path forward. That said, our group successfully helped fend off the cuts in the Senate bill, ensuring Corridors of Commerce funds will be available to enable future projects.

Owatonna to Dodge Center construction advanced from 2022

We cheered the appropriation of $160 million for the Owatonna to Dodge Center expansion project when it passed in 2018, but we later received concerning news that a technical glitch would prevent construction from moving forward until 2022. Once the issue was identified, advancing the construction schedule of this already-funded portion of the project became Highway 14 Partnership’s first priority for the 2019 legislative session.

Following a great deal of input and coordination between legislative leadership, the incoming Walz administration, Highway 14 legislators, Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB), MnDOT, and advocates including the Highway 14 Partnership, legislation was introduced to correct the technical error. The legislation advanced in both chambers, with hearings in the Senate and House Transportation Committees and Senate Finance Committee. In early March, it was announced that Governor Walz and legislative leaders had struck a deal to move forward with a package of technical corrections to issues in last year’s bonding bill, including the technical correction for Highway 14.

After that compromise was reached, both chambers passed the legislation on March 4. The following day it became the first bill Governor Walz signed as Governor. Preparation work on the project is now underway.

Thank you and next steps

First, I send a sincere THANK YOU to all of the Highway 14 members who continued their long track record of passionate advocacy this session. Your advocacy and collaboration is what have kept the Partnership strong over so many years and are what will help us complete the project all the way to New Ulm. Keep an eye out for information about the annual Highway 14 Partnership summer meeting, which will be held in Owatonna in July. Additional details will be available soon.

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