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Minnesota lawmakers tout $8.4 billion road, bridge package

ST. PAUL - Minnesota Democrats say an $8.4 billion road and bridge funding package they wrote would provide jobs in addition to improving the state's transportation system.

ST. PAUL - Minnesota Democrats say an $8.4 billion road and bridge funding package they wrote would provide jobs in addition to improving the state's transportation system.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, and Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, announced the package this morning, hours before the 2008 legislative session was scheduled to begin at noon. Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party legislative leaders say they plan to pass the bill by month's end.

The 10-year package would borrow $2.2 billion for state highways. A large percentage of the money would be spent to fix deteriorating bridges.

The borrowed money would be repaid with a 2.5-cent increase in gasoline taxes. That is on top of a 5-cent overall fuel tax hike, which would increase automatically in future years to follow inflation.

The bill includes a $25-per-taxpayer annual credit for those older than 18 years old in the lowest income tax bracket to help offset the cost of the higher tax.

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The measure also would increase motor vehicle registration taxes, dedicate leased vehicle taxes to transportation and increase Twin Cities-area sales tax a half cent for local road and transit projects. Registration fees would be more for expensive vehicles.

Murphy said the bill would provide jobs for 33,000 Minnesotans annually, mostly good-paying union jobs with benefits.

"This bill is going to put Minnesotans back to work," Murphy said.

Lieder said the bill is balanced among local roads, state highways and transit needs.

"We are serious about moving forward quickly with a comprehensive transportation package that invests in the safety of all components of our transportation infrastructure and boosts our economy, so we aim to have this bill on the governor's desk as soon as possible," Lieder said.

The bill is similar to ones Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has vetoed in recent years. He said he would consider a 5-cent gasoline tax increase, but has not backed the larger one Democrats propose.

Deputy House Minority Leader Tom Emmer, R-Delano, said on Monday that the Legislature should fix the expected state budget deficit before passing a transportation funding measure.

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