Transportation bill bottoms out our roads and bridges

This bill hardly begins to scratch the surface of the needs of our transportation system. Republicans, DFLers, and the Governor all agree we need $600 million per year for the next 10 years to maintain our current roads and make strategic expansions, and $400 million per year just to maintain and modernize our current assets. This proposal falls far short – about $639 million dollars short for the biennium of what is needed just to maintain and modernize our current roads and bridges. This low amount leaves many Minnesotans and businesses in no better shape than they are in today.

The Republican proposal makes transit cuts that would hurt many Minnesotans. The budget proposal continues to neglect transit funding across Minnesota. Without additional funding, transit options for students and the elderly will be reduced by 10% leaving many Minnesotans without a way to get to work, school, or medical appointments. This flies in the face of the efforts of many area chambers of commerce who have been advocating to increase funding for transit since the original proposals were introduced.

Many components of the proposal are aimed at stopping the expansion of LRT in the Metro, going so far as to limit the ability to raise local revenue and the ability to spend it on what their constituents want. The bill specifically cuts operations support for future LRT lines; prohibits cities, counties, and MnDOT or the Met Council from investing in light rail without legislative approval; and eliminates local Metro authorities’ ability to impose more than a ¼ cent transportation tax without a referendum, unlike other Minnesota counties. Despite Republican objections, LRT is one of the most efficient forms of transit and has been the impetus for billions of dollars of investment along the lines. If we do not build the LRT line the over $900 million in federal funding will go to another region, and they will get these construction jobs added to their local economies.

This bill shifts money away from other priorities in order to fix our failing infrastructure. The bill moves money away from children’s schools, the elderly, and public safety in order to fund Minnesota’s roads and bridges. The bill takes $372 million from the general fund in this biennium, and $566 million in the next. This leaves Minnesota’s roads and bridges vulnerable to budgetary conditions, meaning in the next budget crunch the legislature can raid these funds to make up for a future shortfall.

The transportation proposal has new language that reforms Met Council governance. This proposal was never vetted on the Senate or House floor, but it somehow appeared in the bill without public input. The Met Council reform proposal increases the size of the Met Council, changes the definition of the area under the council’s authority, and includes locally elected officials as Met Council officials. This bill is highly controversial and creates many conflicts of interest as many of the new members would have two incompatible positions, the regulator and the regulated.

This bill added a new step and dissolves the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), rather than allowing the local governments in the board to make the decision themselves. This controversial provision that takes away local control was never even heard in a single committee in the House or Senate, which leaves the public and local stakeholders completely out of this decision. This provision would eliminates CTIB, the existing quarter cent sales tax in five metro counties, and then would restrict the former CTIB counties from using new local transportation revenues for a fixed guideway projects not already in operation. This would fly in the face of local control and allowing local communities to choose how their local tax dollars are spent.