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Friday, May 5, 2017

GOP Caves on Mass Transit, Offers Dayton Dream Budget for the Met Council to Continue Transit Lines

Also: Speaker Daudt Blindsides Transportation Omnibus and Takes Out Met Council Oversight

On Monday 5/1. The House and Senate Transportation committee's met, with five members from each side. They discussed the differences in their two version of the Transportation Omnibus bill to form one version to send to the Governor to sign. More here: GOP Senate Passes $5.8 Billion Transportation Bill with $180 Million to Met Council & Mass Transit a Huge Raise

The biggest difference in these two versions of the bill was the House called for just $61.5 million to fund the Metropolitan Council and the Senate had $180 million. Multiple times over the last month and a half we contacted all ten legislative members (9 GOP & 1 DFL) and received no response. Then we urged other citizens to also contact and encourage the legislators to agree on funding the them the lower number from the house of $61.5. Stating there is no reason to fund the Met C more than $100 million; using 2006 (pre-mass transit) funding as evidence that less than $100 million was more than adequate to continue funding traditional bus service the Met C had threatened to cut if they didn't get more than this $61.5 million. More here: 
House & Senate Differ on Future of Met Council in Mass Transit. Billions at Stake.

None of the legislators responded to us or anyone else in our circle, about what they planned to do.  It's now no surprise they didn't respond because it turns out they did the exactly the opposite. The bill they came up with to send to the Governor has an insane $210.8 million dollars for the Met C! This ridiculous amount is everything that tax payers have feared regarding the continued ability for the Met C to keep back door funding white elephant mass transit corridors that do nothing to relieve congestion, boost the economy, save on emissions, and all the other promises they give. (Back door because this money is not direct funding from the legislature.)

There are fourteen corridors the Met C hopes to build across the metro. Four are built so far and the brilliant strategy of the Met Council has been is to invest millions in planning for as many corridors at a time. This strategy allows the slow development of many corridors to the point that tens of millions are sunk into the study and engineering of each corridor. This fosters reputations of "there's so much money invested, it'd be a waste not to build it." So is the case in Washington County with the 3 corridors that have been in planning since before 2008 when CTIB formed to plan mass transit lines, (Rush, Red Rock, and Gateway Corridor).

The GOP legislators perhaps think the other parts of their bill will stop the Met C from continuing to fund bad corridors. At a glance, an uniformed person could see that the proposed law change to require Met C members be elected County board members instead of unelected appointees by the Governor is a good thing. It is a start; however, if you are aware of the history of the County Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), with it's elected county board members, it made no difference to stop bad transit corridor investment. We saw the Red Line in Apple Valley get built and it has just 850 riders a day for the last four years since it's completion, with a horrible self funded operating cost of just 6%, the Country's average is 30% according to MNDOT.

Needless to say, when the Met C has $210 million to spend we can be assured that it is over $100 million more than they need to fund regular bus service. This is based on pre mass transit Met C funding. It's guaranteed that all the corridors will get their back door funding with this number. Yes the bill dissolves CTIB, but with the Met C going to be made up of County board members it is basically the new and more powerful CTIB. They killed one beast and created another. The legislature just took out the middle man of the Met C. The free for all on the State's General fund will continue since many of the lines are in current study and even the GOP house and senate don't have the conviction to give them a responsible budget. 

Conservatives are concerned about the South West Light Rail Line getting funded; however, that's just one corridor compared to the TEN that are getting new life with this $210 million to continue developing. Representative Hertaus calculated the expense of this mistake would cost State tax payers $13.6 BILLION dollars in ten years and that's assuming only six additional lines are built (see quote at end of post). So why are fiscal conservatives worried about a nearly 2 billion dollar line, the feds are likely not going to fund, when we have a cancer being fed and cultivated to drain billions more than the SWLRT ever would alone?

Yes republicans are the vehicle to get the State back on track to stop wasting road and bridge money on failed mass transit; however, they seem to ignore the obvious and are focused on stopping only the SWLRT. It seems they are intentionally giving the Governor tens of millions in additional funds to the Met C to get him to pass their offer with no funding for the SWLRT. This is a grave mistake. It's negotiating from behind and this same issue caused State shut downs in the past from this Governor. 

On Thursday morning, three days after the conference committee, Representative Runbeck was on AM1130, Twin Cities Newstalk, with "Justice and Drew." For the whole interview all she talked about was stopping the SWLRT. But even she said the feds responded and gave 3 reasons the corridor was dead on their end.
1.) There's an open law suit against the corridor
2.) The corridor planners can't assure the feds the State will cover their operating cost shortfall
3.) The State refuses to fund their side of the construction cost
Listen to the whole ten minute interview here:

At this late point in the session with a bonding bill with tens of millions in pork and this outrageously irresponsible funding of the Met C it's easy to predict a repeat of 2011 when the GOP did nothing to reform wasteful transit spending, the backdoor funding of transit with the met council, and actually did the opposite and funded horrible transit lines like the Red Rock Corridor and Gateway Corridor.... As we know the GOP lost the house and Senate the following year. When the GOP fails to cut something simple as failed mass transit spending we can predict a similar defeat for the Republican legislature AND the Governor's seat in 2018. The fiscal conservative base, will in large part, be unmotivated to help their campaigns or even show up to vote.

Contact Representative Torkelson and Senator Newman:

Representative Hertaus's comment:
"I don't think it was necessarily the legislature's intent to provide an unlimited open checkbook to subsidize at an "unkown" number of rail lines at an unkown cost. Extending the current losses funded by the legislature to the six additional proposed MetC lines would suggest (by my own calculations) the current $55 million of losses would triple to $165 million. This promises to be an endless obligation and when shouldered up against the talked about 10 year transportation funding plan, this would be a $1.65 billion dollar funding shortfall, not to mention a likely $12 BILLION dollars to construct the lines. This totals by my estimation, $13.65 billion for LRT over the next 10 years compared to $6 billion over the same period for all of our roads and bridges statewide. This is more than DOUBLE the expenditure for less than 3% of total ridership assuming the LRT ridership doubles over the same period. Further, these losses will starve the general fund for other constitutionally mandated responsibilities such as education, transportation, judiciary and public safety and will ultimately lead to yet higher taxes.