City, county search for road funds

City, county search for road funds

Lawmakers could nix extension of sales tax or sale of bonds

LARGE GRAPHIC OF CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS IN THE AREA ALONG WITH THE ESTIMATED COST. g Lawmakers could nix extension of sales tax or sale of bonds


By Lenora Chu


ST. PAUL -- Three major highway projects scheduled for the Rochester area have secured most of their state appropriations, but city and county shares of the cost have been slow to appear.

Local legislators have identified two possible sources of money pending approval by the Legislature -- a city sales tax extension and state bonding proceeds -- to help Rochester and Olmsted County meet their funding obligations. But the future of both prospects is uncertain at this point in the 2002 session.

Both provisions are included in bills now stuck in two of the most controversial House-Senate conference committees, which are convened to stamp out differences between the bills of both chambers.

The first funding prospect is a proposed extension of a 1/2-cent Rochester sales tax, which would raise an expected $15 million during the next decade to help pay for highway improvements.

Successfully offered by Sen. Sheila Kiscaden as an amendment to the Senate transportation bill, the proposal would allow the city to sell bonds to fund infrastructure projects and use the sales tax revenues for repayment. The extension, which would expire in 2013 at the latest, applies to a 1/2-cent sales tax originally imposed to help fund sewer, infrastructure, civic center and sports facilities projects in Rochester.

Subject to voter referendum, the proposed extension must first weather tough negotiations in the transportation conference committee. A Rochester Republican, Kiscaden has said she doubts the provision would survive, because Rep. Bill Kuisle, co-chairman of the committee, said he would not support the provision.

"I'm not sure where this request for extension came from," he said. "Nobody made a request for me to fund (highway projects) that way, that's why I'm not thrilled about that at this time."


Kuisle also said that House Republicans will reject a similar tax proposal for the metro area, and that opposition would flush the Rochester extension out of the final bill.

The second potential source for city and county shares is the proposed sale of $25 million in general obligation bonds, the proceeds of which would contribute to local shares of trunk highway projects. Yet like the city sales tax proposal, the appropriation must also survive the bonding conference committee, where House and Senate plans are miles apart.

"That's the alternative source that can be used for local contributions to meet the local share," said Rep. Dave Bishop, a Rochester Republican. "But that will probably come out (of the final bill) because the Senate doesn't want to do it that way."

The provision is included in the House plan, but the Senate bonding plan ignores highways like U.S. 52 and US. 63 completely, instead favoring metro-area commuter rail projects.

The largest of the three highway projects, a nine-mile expansion of U.S. 52 through Rochester, calls for an estimated $12 million city contribution.

The finances of the other two projects -- the construction of an interchange at U.S. 52 and County Road 14 and new overpasses at two points along U.S. 63 -- are less certain because the plans carry a lower profile with state transportation officials.

Minnesota Department of Transportation officials are already discussing plans to scale back the U.S. 52-County Road 14 interchange project because of difficulties in securing local funding.

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