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COL Gov. Pawlenty, Pass the gas tax

Gov. Tim Pawlenty would be wise to work out a deal and accept a gas tax increase to help fund Minnesota's road system. The House last week passed a 10 cents per gallon gas tax hike over the next three years, which would raise millions of dollars and be dedicated only to the road fund.

There are many reasons why Pawlenty should accept the first gax tax increase since 1980, but the governor says he won't.

First of all, it would break his no-tax increase pledge.

And with the governor's approval rating riding in the 60 percent range, he doesn't have to compromise. Pawlenty, as is his desire, will remain above the fray, letting his attack-dog House Speaker Steve Sviggum do his dirty work. Sviggum was a much better representative when he focused more on the needs of his rural district than on cow-towing to the governor and the statewide Republican agenda.

Sviggum, like other rural Minnesotans, knows that the transportation system in the state needs significant improvement. Waiting too long and allowing the system to deteriorate more will make the ultimate taxpayer cost much higher and limit farmers' ability to market crops. Agribusinesses also will be impacted and perhaps locate to other states with better systems.

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Pawlenty's road construction plan relies heavily on borrowing, which only leaves the bills for the next generation. When those bills come due, Pawlenty thinks he will be working his magic on a national stage as a Minnesota senator. Pawlenty should take his eye off that prize and focus on what Minnesota needs -- a leader with his eyes focused on positioning the state to be a strong economic power.

That's not to say that the gas tax needs a full 10 cents increase. How about a compromise that will pour more money into the transportation account?

How about a 6-cent gas increase over three years?

The trouble with compromise is the governor would have to break his no-tax-increase pledge. However, in this case, the future of Minnesota is more important then a pledge. Besides, the governor's pledge has always been a bit of a charade.

St. Paul policies have given local communities little choice but to increase taxes to pay for needed services.

Sviggum has been bitterly disappointing. It's nice that he protects Pawlenty's backside. It's too bad that his blind devotion has caused him to turn his back on the transportation system. As a lawmaker from a rural area who travels regularly in the metro area, Sviggum should understand the state's transportation needs better than most. His priority should be the people of Minnesota, not the governor.

Legislators have taken the first step, the governor needs to meet them half way. Pawlenty needs to swallow his pledge and pay for road improvements now, rather than passing the bill onto his children.

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