ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — gov. Tim Walz pitched one-time rebate checks to help Minnesota families cover high costs. Republicans sought permanent tax rate cutes for an ongoing boost to paychecks. And in late February, six House Democrats introduced a proposal suspending the gas tax this summer.
But none of these bills passed before session’s end last month.
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The Minnesota Legislature left billions in the state surplus on the table before adjournment, failing to reach compromise on many key issues, including education, public safety, and tax relief.
“I am hearing from my constituents. I know my colleagues are hearing from their constituents,” said Rep. Dan Volgamott (DFL-St. Cloud), who is an assistant majority leader. “There is an urgency to take our surplus and do something with it to help Minnesotans who are struggling.”
Wolgamott was one of the Democrats who authored the gas tax “holiday” bill that would’ve saved Minnesotans the 28.5 cent tax per gallon from Memorial Day through Labor Day. These revenues support roads and bridges, but the proposal would replenish the account with general fund dollars.
Minnesotans are grappling with record high prices at the gas pump. This week, prices average $4.59 a gallon, up more than 30 cents from last week’s average. It’s below the national average of $4.87, but one station in Crystal is circling the $5 mark, at $4.94.
“For a senior on a fixed income, this is robbery,” said Gerald Boerm, who was filling up in Crystal.
The gas tax holiday proposal never got a hearing and didn’t make it into large, end-of-session budget bills subject to negotiations. Wolgamott said he couldn’t get bipartisan support, but now is advocating for the legislature to come back and pass the proposal in a special session, which appears unlikely.
“We need to come back to special session, pass these bills and make sure we that we’re doing something for working families who are struggling with the rising cost of living,” he said.
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But Republicans tried and failed a procedural maneuver on the House floor to suspend the rules and bring the bill up for a vote in March, bypassing the committee process.
Democrats rejected the move, which added fuel for Republicans’ criticisms of Democrats for the effort and for their votes to raise the gas tax in previous years. The GOP minority is making rising costs a center focus of their campaign to take back control of the Minnesota House.
“The Democrats held a press conference, proposed legislation and then did nothing to even get a hearing on the bill, let alone bring it to the floor for a vote,” said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch). “That’s an election year gimmick.”
On his vote against suspending the rules and voting on the legislation quickly, Volgamott called it a “political game” and a “gotcha” move by Republicans. “I support this legislation very much but I didn’t want to run over the rules of the constitution to bring it up without doing due diligence,” he said.
At least five states have or have had some sort of gas tax pause—Maryland, Georgia, Connecticut, New York and Florida, which are a mix of GOP and Democrat-led states, according to an analysis by Kiplinger. New York’s gas tax suspension started at the beginning of this month and runs through the end of the year, according to a CBS News report.
gov. Tim Walz’s advocated for one-time rebate checks to help with costs. But both House Democrats and Senate Republicans rebuffed that proposal, though some states have acted on the same idea, including Indiana, Georgia and New Jersey.
He also signed on a letter with other Democrat governors asking Congress to suspend the federal gas tax†
Meanwhile, Minnesota drivers are looking for ways to save.
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“Sometimes I won’t fill my tank all the way just because it’s so expensive. Other times there’s apps and stuff I use to find lowest prices near me,” said Maddie Jacobs of Coon Rapids. “Anything would help.”