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Feds may hold back highway money next year

State could lose $20M over trucker license data law

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — Minnesota could lose more than $20 million in federal highway money next year because the state so far cannot electronically transmit data on commercial truckers’ convictions to other states.

The threat of lost federal dollars comes as the state struggles with upkeep on roads and bridges. It could stoke what is expected to be a sharp debate over transportation funding in the upcoming legislative session.

Pat McCormack, who heads driver and vehicle services at the state Department of Public Safety, said she expects to meet a Sept. 30, 2008, testing deadline to show Minnesota can share the data electronically.

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"We’ve tried very hard to comply with the letter of the law," McCormack said.

Right now, the data is sent manually to other states, but a 1999 federal law required states to switch over to electronic data sharing or risk losing 5 percent of their highway funds the first year, with penalties doubling the second year.

Federal officials will be watching. They warned Gov. Tim Pawlenty of the state’s "substantial non-compliance" in a September letter. Minnesota is one of 10 states to fall short of the federal regulations.

"The real story is, come next September, if they have it completed or not," said Dan Drexler, division administrator for the federal program that monitors motor carrier safety.

Meanwhile, an audit by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found problems in Minnesota’s screening of commercial truck drivers. The audit said the program could miss drivers with drunken driving convictions or other crimes, potential terrorists planning to transport dangerous materials without passing federal scrutiny or fraudulent applicants who use false names.

McCormack said the department is working on those issues, but needs lawmakers to act on a transportation policy bill that stalled last session.

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