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I just spoke with Rep. Mike Beard, the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, about the status of negotiations with the Dayton administration. What Chairman Beard said stunned me because he has a reputation for being a measured man.

First, Chairman Beard said that dedicated funds (gas tax, license tab fees and other taxes) totalled $4,900,000,000 for the 2012-13 biennium. Chairman Beard said that that $4,900,000,000 represents approximately “99.4% of the Transportation budget.”

According to Chairman Beard, the sticking point is over transit project spending. Republicans are willing to spend approximately $60,000,000 in general fund money on these projects. Gov. Dayton is demanding they spend $100,000,000 on transit projects.

Next, Chairman Beard said that he and Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Gimse have agreed to write a bill that deals only with dedicated fund projects. The Dayton administration has rejected that offer.

As a result, state projects like the one at 169 and 494 would be halted on July 1 if a budget agreement isn’t reached. When asked if this would be a hard shutdown or if people would be allowed to work with the possibility of not getting paid immediately, Rep. Beard said that it would be a hard shutdown because these projects need MnDOT inspectors each step of the way.

If MnDOT is shut down, those inspectors instantly disappear.

There’s more to this than just shutting projects down. A government shutdown isn’t just about stopping the projects. It’s about the cost of tearing down the cranes and other heavy equipment prior to the shutdown, then getting that equipment put back together before restarting those projecs.

The cost associated with that aspect of the shutdown is both expensive and avoidable. Chairman Beard said that choosing the shutdown and its additional expenses is “a dereliction of duty” on the Dayton administration’s behalf. Chairman Beard noted that July 1 is the Friday of the long 4th of July weekend.

That can’t help but increase the stress being put on Minnesota’s highways that weekend, stress they don’t need. Detours would be stressed further than they’re already stressed.

Most importantly, it’s totally avoidable if Gov. Dayton would call a special session to pass a form of lights on bill for dedicated fund transportation projects. Such a bill might get 100-110 votes in the House and another 50+ in the Senate.

If Gov. Dayton shuts down the MnDOT projects, he will have chosen to unnecessarily delay important road projects while adding additional costs onto the projects.

Why would any thoughtful person shut down a government over a $40,000,000 general fund difference on a $5,000,000,000 budget? That’s getting 99.2% of what you want and still saying ‘no deal’.

If these projects are halted, it will be because Gov. Dayton chose to hold the state hostage to pressure the legislature to voting for the DFL’s tax increases.

To paraphrase Chairman Beard, that would be dereliction of duty on Gov. Dayton’s behalf.

UPDATE: I should’ve included the numbers of construction workers and state employees who will be affected by Gov. Dayton’s shutdown of MnDOT. This op-ed, written by Chairman Gimse and Chairman Beard, outlines it nicely:

Those affected by a shutdown include the 4,878 employees at the Department of Transportation, 1,961 at the Department of Public Safety (which includes the State Patrol)and the contractors and vendors working with the state of Minnesota who may see their critical work activity suspended or limited.

To put thousands of current and pending contracts on hold, as well as the tens of thousands of jobs on the sidelines indefinitely, is not the type of leadership Minnesotans need in the midst of this economic recession.

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