Political Notebook: Dayton says US 14 upgrades will stall without big investment

HEATHER J. CARLSON, hcarlson@postbulletin.com

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is ramping up his efforts to convince lawmakers of the need to invest big in transportation.

During a discussion with reporters last week, Dayton said that unless lawmakers are willing to dramatically boost transportation spending, the effort to expand U.S. 14 Highway to four-lanes will likely be stalled for years to come.

“Without this additional revenue, Highway 14 will unfortunately be two lanes where it is now for the rest of my lifetime,” Dayton said. “It’s a choice of two states. It’s a choice of two Rochesters, two Mankatos, two Owatonnas.”

Dayton said he and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle plan to highlight this week which Minnesota transportation projects could be completed under the governor’s $11 billion proposal. Dayton’s 10-year plan includes $1.6 billion for the state’s Corridors of Commerce program, which has designated nearly $75 million towards upgrading U.S. 14 over the past two years. The Legislature created Corridors of Commerce in 2013 targeted at projects that would increase highway capacity and improve the movement of freight.

Senate DFLers have put forward their own transportation bill. It includes $800 million over the next four years for Corridors of Commerce. Both the governor and Senate Democrats’ plans include an increase in the sales tax on gasoline at the wholesale level.

House Republicans have balked at the idea of a gas tax increase. So far, they’ve put forward a four-year, $750 million funding package devoid of any tax increases. That plan does not specifically designate funding for Corridors of Commerce. But the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee is making a statement about the importance of the program. The committee will hold its first bill hearing Monday on a proposal that would allocate $400 million to Corridors of Commerce over the next two-year budget cycle. The U.S. 14 Highway Partnership President and New Ulm Mayor Robert Beussman praised the move.

“To be the first transportation bill in the House to receive a hearing says a lot about the importance of finishing Highway 14 and the Corridors of Commerce program,” Beussman said.

Revoking a teacher’s license for sex crimes

Freshman Rep. Peggy Bennett’s first bill goes after teachers convicted of sex crimes involving children.

The Albert Lea Republican’s legislation would automatically revoke teaching licenses for individuals convicted of sex trafficking, agreeing to hire a minor to engage in prostitution or stalking a minor. It also would allow licenses to be revoked if a teacher has to register as a sex offender.

Bennett said the Minnesota Board of Teaching requested the legislation in order to avoid costly hearings in order to revoke a license in these circumstances.

“It should be no brainer,” said Bennett, an elementary school teacher. “Obviously, we should not have people convicted of child sex crimes in our classrooms.”

The Board of Teaching’s Executive Director Erin Doan said the bill was inspired by real cases. She said public hearings for these kinds of cases can end up costing anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000.

“We’re hoping this clarifies a number of things and allows us to protect the safety of children in our classrooms,” Doan said.

The House Education Innovation Policy Committee approved Bennett’s bill, sending it to the House Education Finance Committee. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.

Heather J. Carlson covers politics for the Post-Bulletin and writes the Political Party blog.

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