Twin Cities Metro Transit would be cut $109.44 million and transit in greater Minnesota cut $7.62 million under the transportation finance bill that is likely to go to Governor Dayton tomorrow. According to the Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit, the cuts would mean a 50 cent fare increase and 22 percent service cut – a devastating outcome that they estimate would mean a loss of 22 million transit rides a year and pink slips for 450 transit employees.
Mn/DOT says that the cuts to outstate transit would mean the loss of 101,000 hours of annual bus service, or about a 10 percent cut, which is the equivalent of completely eliminating service in five average small regional centers and five average rural counties.
The same bill also nixes the state’s efforts to plan for future intercity rail lines, like Twin Cities to Chicago, Duluth, and Rochester. This is a cynical cut of $500,000 that does little for the state’s bottom line, but would waste much of the work that was initiated under then-Governor Pawlenty to get Minnesota back in line with a plan to move forward on intercity rail investment.
Make no mistake about it, these cuts would have a big negative impact on quality of life for many Minnesotans now and into the future. With families facing $4 gas, this is the wrong direction. For the thousands of Minnesotans that do not have access to a car, they will be faced with even more challenges to reach work, school, or appointments. It also only makes the state less attractive for businesses, who increasingly consider affordable transit options when deciding on where to locate.
The bill also threatens any future light rail or bus rapid transit lines. The Federal government requires that local communities support their bus system before they will pony up their 50 percent share for new transitways. Clearly, this type of cut would not fulfill federal requirements and would jeopardize Southwest LRT from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, Bottineau Boulevard LRT from Minneapolis to the northwest suburbs, any future bus rapid transit or commuter rail to serve the East Metro, and other projects being discussed. The bill also includes language that gives the Counties Transit Improvement Board, which oversees the ¼ cent local sales tax for building and operating new transitways, the option of diverting their funds to support the bus system. That is a lose-lose scenario for everyone involved and isn’t a meaningful solution to the budget deficit, not to mention a terrible precedent for other local option sales taxes.
The bill authors purport that the numbers won’t be that bad. But their math is dependent on unlikely increases in car sales – an area that has failed to meet projections in 9 of the last 10 years. They also take from other valuable Metropolitan Council programs for economic development and future transportation corridor right-of-way acquisition to try to lessen the impact on the transit system. But those shifts are a bad short-term fix as well given the value and success of those programs in supporting new development and saving tax payers money in the long-term.
The Minnesota House approved the bill on a party-line 71-61 vote early Thursday morning. The Senate is likely to approve the bill Thursday afternoon as part of the Republican majority’s overall budget package. When it reaches the Governor Dayton’s desk on Friday or Saturday, we hope he promptly vetoes it so we can figure out a solution that won’t gut the state’s transit system now and into the future.