ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz says his budget is more than a fiscal spreadsheet — he calls it a “moral” document.
“This budget reflects the morals and values of the people of Minnesota. This is the budget that Minnesotans voted for by historic numbers in November,” Walz said.
Walz’s sweeping budget includes $523 million for Minnesota classrooms, a new $60 million paid family leave program and a 20-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike.
The governor says raising the gas tax is necessary to build and repair hundreds of roads and bridges in poor condition. He says it’s exactly what he told voters who elected him in record numbers — and what voters expect from him in return.
“Minnesota’s crumbling infrastructure is putting our safety at risk,” Walz said.
His proposed hike is 20 cents per gallon over two years. Some drivers already feel the pinch.
“I’m pretty much paycheck to paycheck as is,” driver April Van Vegagl said.
So any increase for whatever reason makes some want to put on the brakes.
“My initial reaction is, ‘Oh no, not more money for gas,’” driver Sandy Akabwai said.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher says the 20-cent gas tax per gallon would happen over two years.
“The gas tax would be raised four times, a nickel each time,” Anderson Kelliher said. “We need it because our system is behind. It’s deteriorating right now.”
The proposed hike adds about 70 percent more to the current 28.6 cent state gas tax. The commissioner explains this would make up for funding that used to come out of the general fund and it would pay off transportation funding debt.
“The additional money beyond that helps us buy into having more mobility into the future, better, smoother traffic, less wear and tear on your vehicle,” Anderson Kelliher said.
Driver Mike Edwards says he understands the concept.
“I suppose one bill for getting my truck fixed something is going to be if I hit a big pothole, it’d probably be more expensive than the tax,” Edwards said.
Driver Greg Valentine is ready to buy in.
“I like to drive on nice roads, so money’s got to come from somewhere,” Valentine said.
But not so fast, said Akabwai.
“It doesn’t sound like a whole lot if you’re not driving a lot, but someone like me, I drive a lot for my job so that makes a big difference,” Akabwai said.
For a driver with a 15-gallon tank that fills up three times a month, the gas tax would add an extra $9 per month, or $108 per year.
If approved as is, the money would go to roads and bridges in the state, raising $1.9 billion by the time the tax is fully implemented.
Republican leaders say they’re shocked by the size and scope of Walz’s “One Minnesota” budget, which they dubbed “One Expensive Budget.” They say it catapults Minnesota into one of the highest-taxed states in the country.
“This uncontrolled spending will give Minnesota the reputation of being a cold California,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said.