Today 13 people, including four state legislators, filed a legal challenge to the Transportation Amendment that is slated to appear on Minnesota ballots this November. The four legislators are Rep. Dan Dorman (R-Albert Lea), Rep. Morrie Lanning (R-Moorhead), Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia), and Sen. Keith Langseth (DFL-Glyndon). Their argument? If I might distill it for you, the words “at least” confuse people.
The amendment is designed to designate more money for transportation in Minnesota. It does this by dedicating all of the money collected from the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax. Currently, a big chunk of that money goes into the General Fund, where it can be spent on anything the hearts of legislators desire.
The amendment, if passed, would mandate “at least 40 percent for public transit assistance and not more than 60 percent for highway purposes.” The plaintiffs argue that you and I, the voters, will not understand that “at least 40 percent” means that it might be more than 40 percent and that “not more than 60 percent” means it could be less than 60 percent.
I know America’s math scores on standardized tests are low, but don’t Minnesotan’s know that “at least” means it could be greater than? I have faith that they do.
To provide support for their argument, the plaintiffs claim that 1) the press is confused, 2) pollsters are confused, 3) the Attorney General’s office is confused, 4) the Secretary of State’s office is confused, and 5) Legislators were confused. In each case, they claim that when ever it is discussed, it is not clear enough that “at least 40 percent” could mean an amount greater than 40 percent.
On the fifth point, I would like to point out that both Rep. Rukavina and Sen. Langseth voted for the bill that contained this amendment (HF 2461). As far as I can tell, there were at least eight amendments offered on the bill during the House floor debate (May 11, 2005) and not one of those tried to clarify any confusing language related to the amendment.
There were a few attempts this past Spring to change the amendment to an exact 40/60 transit/highway split, but that was being done to fundamentally alter the legislative intent, not to clarify the language (this is in my opinion, having only been a spectator in the process – if I am wrong on this, please say so in a comment below).
Call me cynical, but this seems like a rather weak attempt by the amendment’s opponents to prevent the people of Minnesota from designating all of this funding for transportation uses.