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Senate Passes Gas Tax Increase To Fund Road, Bridge Repairs

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - State officials say about half of Minnesota roads and bridges are more than 40 years old, nearing the end of their useful lives.

Add a million more residents in the next 15 years, and Democrats say the need for a gas tax hike to pay for roads is urgent.

Fuel-saving cars and fewer driving miles mean less money for fixing roads and bridges, but that doesn't make a gas tax hike any easier.

Brian Colvin of Prior Lake drives a big pickup truck for his construction work.

"I put all my tools in the back," he said. "I can't do that in a Honda Civic."

Raising the gas tax is like cutting his pay.

"I have to use this for work, whether the gas price is $4 a gallon or $2 a gallon," he said. "It just makes for a pain in the butt."

Minnesota's 28.5 cents per gallon gas tax ranks 22nd in the nation. That's lower than Wisconsin, at 33 cents, Iowa at 32 and South Dakota, 30. Oil-rich North Dakota's tax is 23 cents per gallon.

To pay for road and bridge repairs, Senate Democrats approved a 16-cent gas tax hike, to 45 cents a gallon, when gas prices hit $2.50 a gallon.

Republicans unanimously voted no.

"This bill is a war -- a declaration of war on drivers, on car owners, on commuters who might have to commute into Minneapolis and St. Paul," Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said.

But Democrats say that the gas tax now is lower than it once was, if you account for inflation.

"If the gas tax had been allowed to keep pace with inflation (over the past 30 years) it would be, just for the state's portion, well over 50 cents," Sen. Scott Dibble, the Democratic Transportation Committee Chair, said.

Noel Wells, who drives 30,000 miles a year for her sales job, understands the need for road-fixing money.

"I think a smaller increase, something less impactful, maybe half of that amount" would be acceptable, Wells said.

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