Dayton defends Southwest LRT delay

Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday reaffirmed his support for delaying decisions on the Southwest Corridor light-rail line after meeting with local officials.

During a wide-ranging press conference at the Capitol, the governor also pushed for legislative approval of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s online voter registration system, which has drawn deep concerns from Republican lawmakers since he implemented it without lawmakers’ input late last month. 

On the light-rail line, the governor said he wasn’t sure how the project would look once policymakers reach agreement. Some local officials have expressed concerns about the line’s placement in the Kenilworth Corridor of Minneapolis and whether building the train would require a tunnel there.

The governor said it’s better to have time to figure out a better proposal than to move on a plan that has caused such deep disagreement.

“We thought this was a more effective way to move ahead than ramming it into a collision, and all the fallout from that, and the further delays that that would cause,” Dayton said.

The governor also said as long as a final plan is ready by May, there likely won’t be a problem with federal funding for the $1.55 billion project. Such funding was key for the Central Corridor light-rail line, which will open next year.

“Their judgment and our best judgment is that this delay by itself would not be a factor” with federal funding, Dayton said, referring to a conference call he was on 10 days ago with Sen. Al Franken and other members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation.

“I think we’ll come out ahead,” he added. “It’s better to get it done right.”

On the online voting system, which  Ritchie has defended, Dayton said he supported his colleague’s “intent” to make voting as easy as possible.

But, Dayton said he also agreed with Sen. Katie Sieben, chairwoman of the Senate elections committee, who has said the project should get legislative approval. But Sieben so far hasn’t bowed to Republican requests to consider the measure before the start of February’s legislative session.

The governor has long said he would only entertain election law changes that have bipartisan support in the Legislature. But he said Republicans have been an issue.

 “They’ve got a hammerlock on any reform of election law,” Dayton said. “It’s just a nonstarter, and I don’t know the remedy to that.”

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