Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin
SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- Road and bridge builders Wednesday asked Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin to restore the flow of money to highway projects idled by Minnesota's state government shutdown.
Not only did projects grind to a halt during the prime construction season, but highway contractors haven't been paid for work already completed. Some companies are pulling up stakes and taking road work in other states.
"This is no way to run a business," Dave Semerad, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota, told reporters.
"This is also a terrible message for to be sending the rest of the country. We're sending the rest of the country that we can't get our business done here in Minnesota."
An attorney for the road contractors, Dean B. Thomson, pointed out that the state department of transportation, or MnDOT, already entered into contracts on multi-year projects. And that was based on allocations by the legislature, even though the money isn't technically appropriated.
He said if the state temporarily lacks the legal authority to spend money on inspectors, MnDOT does have the power to issue change orders on projects. Thomson said, for example, MnDOT could kill the landscaping on a project to free up cash for inspectors.
"All we're asking the judge to do is just clarify that," Thomson told Kare, "And I think the government legitimately needs that direction, because we're all on terra incognita here, and we need some direction."
Judge Gearin took the case under advisement, but urged both parties to lobby their lawmakers and Governor Dayton. She said the State Capitol is a better place to settle the question.
The two transportation chairmen in the legislature, Rep. Mike Beard of Shakopee and Sen. Joe Gimse, of Willmar, brought a related case to Judge Gearin Tuesday.
"I have a hunch that if we were in St. Paul, instead of sitting at home in our districts weeding the garden or painting the garage, if we were sitting in St. Paul looking at each other we'd probably work some things out," Rep. Mike Beard told KARE. "But right now stuck until the Governor makes that call. We're kind of stuck.
Beard and Gimse also put forth the notion that multi-year projects are already bought and paid for already.
"Previous legislatures have already appropriated the money that's being spent on the construction projects that are now grinding to a halt," Rep. Beard said.
"That money's already been appropriated, contracts have already been signed. Governor, why won't you let those go forward?
Beard conceded that cuts to mass transit are a sticking point, because those programs are funded by the general fund dollars. The overwhelming share of the highway and bridge budget comes from dedicated tax dollars, such as the gasoline fuel tax and license tab fees.
"There's no disagreement over $4.6 billion of dedicated highway money. It's about $40 to $60 million dollars of general fund transit money, that's the rub."