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‘Belt and suspenders’ for transit would be more like a noose

The sales tax is already a large burden on lower-income Minnesotans. Transit advocates want to quadruple the current transit tax to a full penny.

Light rail has enormous costs that will be a burden to future generations.
Courtesy of Metro Transit

Conrad deFiebre recently wrote that the state of Minnesota should employ both bonding and a sales tax to fund transit. He likened using both as “a belt and suspenders” for supporting transit.

dillon photo
Norann Dillon

By his own reasoning, the current rail dominated transit plan will be a noose on future generations.

He admits the current quarter-cent metro sales tax for transit had to be “shifted to plug operating deficits” and that transitways have “deficit-riddled operations.” Yes! We all agree they lose money! So why do we want this?

In many arguments in favor of larger transit “investments,” the ‘falling behind our peers’ premise is brought out, and deFiebre uses it too. Portland’s TriMet budget problems are so severe, they are raising fares, cutting service and dealing with labor strife. San Jose’s light rail system has the dubious distinction of being “the least efficient in the country and suffers from low ridership and high operating costs.” In Dallas, transit ridership fell despite billions of spending on light rail.

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Better to fall behind peers

With results like these, I’m very pleased that we’re ‘falling behind our peers’ in their race to bankruptcy.

I find it strange that a Fellow for a progressive think tank would advocate for higher sales taxes. He even admits that they “hit hardest on those of low incomes.” I guess it’s OK since it’s just a little here and there. Remember that “the average Minnesota family of four will pay less than $5 a month extra in sales tax [for the Legacy Amendment].”

And the Twins “Ballpork.” And the current transit tax. And the convention centers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s like death by a thousand paper cuts.

Distribution of sales tax burden by population quintiles (2008)

The sales tax is already a large burden on lower-income Minnesotans. Transit advocates want to quadruple the current transit tax to a full penny. It’s disingenuous for liberals to advocate so strongly to increase sales taxes, especially for a “solution” that will only benefit about 4 percent of the population.

Costs will burden future Minnesotans

Light rail has enormous costs that will be a burden to future generations. If we’re going to pursue transit options in the Twin Cities, then let’s choose bus rapid transit, which can be built for about half as much. The Urban Land Institute says “bus rapid transit can offer the look and feel of light-rail service at substantially lower cost.”

Let’s have bold leadership and get the best value for our tax dollars instead of hanging the “deficit-riddled operations” of light rail around the necks of future generations.

Norann Dillon is a stay-at-home mom with an interest in public policy.  In 2010, as a candidate for the Minnesota state senate, her campaign was widely acknowledged for hard work, remaining issues-based, and respectfully challenging people’s assumptions about what is the purpose and role of government.  The Plymouth resident writes occasionally at


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