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Minnesota Legislature

Transit gets help in omnibus bill

Published (4/17/2009)
By Mike Cook
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The omnibus transportation finance bill contains $4.28 billion worth of funding. While none of it is new money, shifts and fund adjustments are expected to help transit programs.

Approved over a three-day span ending April 16 by the House Transportation Finance and Policy Division and the House Finance and Ways and Means committees, the bill awaits action by the full House. A companion, SF1276, sponsored by Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing), is scheduled to be heard April 20 by the Senate Taxes Committee.

Rep. Bernie Lieder (DFL-Crookston), sponsor of HF1309, said one of the largest issues was finding ways to fund transit in both the Twin Cities metropolitan area and Greater Minnesota. All are facing monetary shortfalls.

Because the schedule of state payments for operating procedures results in Greater Minnesota transit providers receiving large payments in July and November, some may run fiscally dry before July. Testimony earlier this month indicated a $7.56 million immediate need.

The bill shifts that amount from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2009, with the fiscal year 2011 reduction made up using funds from the motor vehicle lease sales tax reallocation. That money was to fund a credit for low-income taxpayers to help offset the gas tax that was increased in the 2008 funding law; however, none has been distributed. This bill reallocates the funding so that 65 percent would go to Metro Transit, 25 percent to Greater Minnesota transit and 10 percent to roads of regional significance in the Twin cities metropolitan area.

In conjunction with the additional funding, neither Metro Transit nor transit providers receiving assistance from the Metropolitan Council could raise fares or cut service from 2009 through 2011. Each must also provide free public regular route transit for disabled veterans.

With transportation revenue not meeting forecasted levels, the trunk highway fund reserve is decreasing to the point where further declines could result in canceling projects.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty recommends a $150 million base reduction for state road construction; the bill reduces it by $100 million, state road operations and maintenance by $21.7 million and state road infrastructure by $17.1 million with three other areas getting smaller reductions. MnDOT department support would receive an ongoing $5 million biennial cut.

However, Lieder noted that federal economic stimulus dollars offset other decreases to provide a $67.6 million biennial increase for state road construction to $1.17 billion.

Other funding and policy parts of the bill include:

• drivers in a 55 mph or 60 mph zone on a two-lane highway could exceed the speed limit by 10 mph to pass another vehicle;

• creation of a MnDOT grant program for rehabilitation or replacement of fracture-critical bridges on a local road system;

• providing MnDOT with powers and authority related to passenger rail; and

• creating a new account for allocating funds to metropolitan counties for county highways that have regional or statewide significance.

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