“Suburban opt-out transit providers, responsible for only six percent of the transit trips in the metropolitan area are sitting on tens of millions of dollars in excessive cash reserves at the same time that transit services in the metropolitan area and Greater Minnesota are being hit with draconian budget cuts.
Many opt-out providers’ buses are charter tour quality, in some cases even providing absolutely free service. They have the highest per passenger subsidy. Suburban opt-out funding comes from sales tax on cars (motor vehicle sales tax, MVST)—a tax that is paid by Minnesotans from every corner of the state. The same senior citizen in Rochester or veteran in Minneapolis that contributed to MVST is seeing their own transit service slashed while the opt-outs sit on fund balances that are in some instances nine times above recommended levels.
Protecting this situation is part and parcel of the Republican’s refusal to pull Minnesotans together during this budget crisis. It follows the pattern established in other parts of their budget of punishing the people who live in communities with DFL legislative representation. The suburban opt-outs are the only transit providers that are being held completely harmless in these budget cuts—with dollars that every Minnesotan has paid in motor vehicle sales tax, no less. Allowing these extremely excessive reserves to be spent down to the Legislative Auditor’s recommended levels would still leave them unscathed.
On the other hand, 35 percent of Metro Transit bus riders are impoverished. These low-income workers, elderly, and disabled Minnesotans rely on transit service to get to their jobs, medical appointments, and carry on daily activities. These are the folks whose routes will be cut and fares will be increased. They will not get to their jobs, their medical appointments, school, or day care. They will face devastating fare increases.
In Greater Minnesota, these proposed transit cuts would result in the reduction of 81,000 hours of bus service–the equivalent of completely eliminating transit service in East Grand Forks, Granite Falls, Hibbing, Morris, and Rochester.
The hypocrisy of the Republican Majority is astonishing. In the Senate Transportation Committee, they refused to tap into the excessive reserves of these opt-outs to help mitigate the devastating Metro Transit cuts, claiming such action would punish these providers for their “fiscal responsibility” and “efficiency.” Only minutes later, they then voted to require the Met Council to use their maximum feasible reserves (which at present are at the bare minimum recommended budgeting levels) to offset cuts the Republicans would inflict on that system.
It’s simply unconscionable that opt-out providers are being allowed to sit on $26 million in cash reserves while transit in the rest of the state is being dismantled. These funds would go a long way in helping senior citizens to get to the store and medical appointments, students to get to school, and workers get to their jobs.”