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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL)

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GOVERNOR MUST OFFER LEADERSHIP FOR METRO TRANSIT

Monday, April 25, 2005
Rep. Frank Hornstein News Column Minnesota House of Representatives District 60B (651) 296-9281 227 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155 Contact: Melissa Parker (651) 296-8873 melissa.parker@house.mn April 25, 2005 GOVERNOR MUST OFFER LEADERSHIP FOR METRO TRANSIT In an April 23rd Star Tribune commentary, Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell claims to "sympathize" with the plight of 225,000 daily transit riders who will be impacted by an unprecedented $60 million cut to Metro Transit. Our region needs more than sympathy from the Pawlenty administration whose transit legacy to date includes three consecutive years of budget reductions and a labor dispute that led to a significant drop in ridership. The Pawlenty transit cuts affect a broad group of the metropolitan area residents. These include suburban and urban commuters, students, the elderly, and perhaps most troubling of all, those who depend on Metro Mobility for daily trips to doctors, for shopping and other essential services. Beyond the immediate bus riders, the Governor's transit plan will serve to increase congestion by giving commuters fewer transportation choices. In total, the Pawlenty plan reduces service on 78 routes, and completely eliminates service for 28 routes, or 20% of the total routes. In recent public hearings, over 900 metropolitan residents from Hopkins to Maplewood, Fridley to Burnsville offered compelling testimony on how the cuts will impact them. The Metropolitan Council received 3,000 public comments. Legislators have also heard from many constituents. In one particularly poignant letter, a Minnetonka resident living with multiple sclerosis wrote that she chose to live in Minnetonka and build a new accessible home there because of the access to Metro Mobility services, which she will likely need if her disease progresses. Now she learns that proposed service cuts include the city of Minnetonka. This personal and heartfelt letter points out the affects of the administration's plan will be devastating. Yet, under Governor Pawlenty's scenario, our region will not even begin to see improvements in the transit budget until 2008. Chairman Bell admits as much in his commentary piece stating that the Pawlenty transit funding plan will be "phased in, starting in 2008". The plan continues reliance on the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax (MVST), which Bell correctly identifies as one of the reasons Metro Transit has experienced the current shortfall. The Minnesota House and Senate will begin floor debate on Omnibus Transportation Finance bills next next week. Our region and state require a balanced transportation package that includes additional funding for both roads and transit. Bi-partisan legislation sponsored by Rep. Ron Ehrardt provides an additional $100 million for transit in each of the next two years over Goveronor Pawlenty's plan and an additional $450 in each of the next two years for roads. Yet, Governor Pawlenty has threatened to veto any transportation plan that calls for increased revenues such as a modest gas tax increase, which has not been increased since 1988. Instead, he relies on a mixture of increased fees, accounting shifts and burgeoning future debt for his plan. Facing increased congestion, needed repairs to roads and bridges and transit cuts, we can ill-afford the administration's shortsighted approach. Other cities, with support from their state legislatures, such as Seattle, Phoenix and Denver, have addressed these issues through identifying dedicated, stable sources of funding for transit. The legislature and Governor must come together in the coming weeks to offer our region real transportation and transit choices. Minnesota's success as an excellent place to live, work and do business depends on it. ###