Budget impasse threatens Interstate 35 work in DuluthA government shutdown starting July 1 could mean the I-35 megaproject in Duluth will come to a grinding halt.
By: Lisa Baumann and Don Davis, Duluth News Tribune, State Capitol Bureau
A government shutdown starting July 1 could mean the I-35 megaproject in Duluth will come to a grinding halt.
Gov. Mark Dayton rejected a proposal Thursday by GOP transportation leaders for a special legislative session to pass a transportation-funding bill. While that would keep summer highway construction going, Dayton said he would not accept one part of the budget before agreeing to an overall package.
“We’re all waiting to see what happens,” said Beth Petrowske, public affairs director for Minnesota Department of Transportation. “It’s one of the biggest projects we have going on in the state, so we’re hoping we can remain on schedule and keep people working.”
Just in case, Petrowske said engineers are looking at plans to shut down the project, which includes bridge repair and replacement as well as pavement replacement between Garfield and Central avenues on Interstate 35. If the project is stopped, the freeway would remain in the current configuration and traffic would move through the same restricted lanes. However, most large equipment belonging to contractors probably would be removed so they could switch to different projects. That process could take time and cost the state “a lot of money,” Petrowske said.
Stopping the project also would mean precious summer days of construction would be lost.
“Every day is important in the summertime,” Petrowske said. “(The shutdown) would delay the project.”
MnDOT was hoping to wrap up the $68 million project by October. Worst case scenario: They have to come back and wrap it up in the spring.
Legislative transportation chairmen Sen. Joe Gimse of Willmar and Rep. Michael Beard of Shakopee said that passing a transportation bill, funded by transportation-related taxes that cannot be spent for other programs, could keep up to 10,000 construction and state workers on the job.
Without a special session, they said, a government shutdown would suspend work on roads across the state and cost millions of dollars to mothball projects and later restart once a budget passes.
Gimse and Beard plan a statewide tour next week to promote their request. “There is no logical reason to shut down construction,” Gimse said.
The chairmen have written a new transportation funding bill that would spend $4.6 billion in gasoline and motor vehicle taxes that must be spent on transportation.
Gimse said that road money is especially important this year because of “extreme” damage winter weather caused to state roads. With a short construction season, he said, any work suspension would end up leaving some roads unfixed.
If Dayton and Republican legislative leaders do not reach a deal for the two-year budget that begins on July 1, much of state government could shut down because it lacks authority to spend money.
Republicans offer to limit tax cuts
Minnesota’s budget talks are at an impasse and two weeks before a potential state government shutdown Gov. Mark Dayton said he does not know how the problem can be resolved.
Republican legislative leaders Thursday gave Dayton a proposal that removed $200 million in tax cuts from bills they passed during the regular legislative session and offered to spend the funds in other areas. House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said the offer was a sincere effort to move along budget talks.
Democrat Dayton, however, was not happy.
“The non-proposal is extremely, extremely disappointing,” Dayton said. “Probably the most disappointing part of this session.”
Thursday’s GOP offer would increase spending for local government aids, higher education, public safety, schools and other areas. It included $9 million for flood and tornado relief.
Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said their offer could be groundwork for an overall budget deal.
“This is far preferable to what the governor proposed yesterday,” Koch said, referring to Dayton’s plan for how to deal with a possible shutdown.
Zellers said the offer was the biggest compromise of the budget discussions because Republicans hold tax cuts dear. Eliminating the variety of tax cuts the Republican-controlled Legislature passed showed sincere movement toward a compromise, he said.
Waving a finger in air, Dayton complained that Republicans “are not willing to budge $1.”
He said moving money within their earlier budget amounted to “rearranging chairs on the Titanic.”
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the News Tribune.