The omnibus transportation finance bill quickly reached a dead end.
Although Gov. Mark Dayton liked part of the package presented to him, he took a red pen to the proposed legislation.
Sponsored by Rep. Michael Beard (R-Shakopee) and Sen. Joe Gimse (R-Willmar), the proposal checked in at $4.5 billion in total spending, although just $62.16 million would have come from the General Fund. User fees, taxes, and federal aid were to make up much of the remaining funds. However, the General Fund spending would have been a $118 million reduction from current biennial funding.
Dayton took particular aim at the lack of transit funding.
The bill included a $109.44 million reduction to the Metropolitan Council and $7.62 million reduction to Greater Minnesota transit for the biennium. Funding for elderly and disabled transit in Greater Minnesota would have been held level, as would special transportation services under the Metropolitan Council.
But Beard said there has been a rise in Motor Vehicle Sales Tax revenues dedicated to transportation funding, of which at least 40 percent must go to transit operations. Beard said it is forecast to provide
$98 million in new transit funds in the upcoming biennium to be split between metro and Greater Minnesota transit. Opponents noted that in nine of the last 10 years MVST revenues have not met expectations.
“I believe that providing comprehensive and reliable transit services, both in the Metro Area and in Greater Minnesota, are essential components of the transportation system in Minnesota,” Dayton wrote in his veto letter. “Transit services improve labor market efficiency, freeway performance, and air quality in the metro area, while sustaining economic viability in Greater Minnesota. The draconian cuts to transportation in this bill are unacceptable to me.”
Transit officials warned the cuts could result in sizeable fare increases, significant route reductions and the laying off of hundreds of employees.
The governor noted that cuts to Greater Minnesota transit would mean 101,000 fewer hours of service, about a 10 percent cut, and would result in the loss of about
“People who use local public transit are disproportionately elderly, disabled, or low income,” Dayton wrote.
To help backfill a portion of its funding reduction, the bill would have permitted the Met Council to transfer uncommitted money in its livable communities fund — used to address affordable and lifecycle housing needs and provide funds to assist communities in carrying out their development plans — and the amounts levied and collected under the right-of-way acquisition loan fund program — used to preserve right-of-way in rapidly growing areas — for transit, paratransit, light rail and commuter rail services. It also allowed for use of other portions of the Met Council budget to fund transit operations. Dayton opposes the idea of using non-transit funds generated from property taxes for transit activities.
Permissive language was included that would permit money from the Counties Transit Improvement Board be transferred to the Metropolitan Council for regular-route bus transit operations. Beard said the board, whose activities to improve transit are funded with a quarter-percent sales tax in five Twin Cities metropolitan area counties, has about $90 million in available funds. He said when the board was authorized in 2008, its first $30 million went to the Met Council to help with an operating deficit.
The bill did not contain an appropriation to the Department of Transportation for commuter and intercity passenger rail planning. With no money allocated, the bill would likely have resulted in the closing of MnDOT’s Passenger Rail Office, according to Dayton.
Sans the office, the governor said federal funding for rail activity would be relinquished. In order to receive federal funding, the office must administer existing agreements to ensure federal grant requirements are met.
Dayton was not entirely critical of the bill. For example, he liked that it would have provided some funds for a new trunk highway development account.
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