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Yet Again, Lawmakers Facing Roadblock Over Transportation

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota lawmakers appear headed for another roadblock over transportation funding.

Republicans and Democrats are squaring off over how to fix roads and bridges.

It's especially critical this year, because lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton have not been able to agree on this topic for years.

Everyone at the Capitol agrees that transportation is the most pressing problem the state is facing right now. Still, lawmakers haven't done anything about it.

On Wednesday, 411 traffic cones were put up on the Capitol steps. Each one represented lives lost in recent highway crashes.

Traffic Deaths In Minnesota
(credit: CBS)

Beth Hodgman lost her husband in 2012 on a deadly stretch of Highway 14 in Blue Earth County.

She has long since run out of patience with the Minnesota Legislature's failure to pass a bill fixing highways.

"The people of southern Minnesota that travel on this death trap every day deserve to have it fixed," she said. "Stop finger pointing! Stop blame-shifting! This needs to all stop."

For years, political bickering has prevented any new highway funding, despite widespread agreement it's needed.

Again this year, Democrats calling for a 10-cent gas tax hike to pay for transit and to fix Minnesota's sprawling highway system.

"This could be a delay of many more years," Commissioner of Transportation Charlie Zelle said. "Every year we don't do something, the system gets more eroded. It gets more costly. The efficiencies go out the window."

But Republicans who control the House and Senate say there's a better way -- without a gas tax hike.

They want to use cash from Minnesota's massive $1.6 billion budget surplus and some money from the general fund.

"We just don't feel that raising taxes, when we have a substantial surplus, is necessary," said House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska). "We don't feel that most citizens in Minnesota want to pay more taxes when they see the surplus that is sitting there."

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