Transit advocates get their chance to lambaste GOP budget cuts

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton

This time, it was the transit advocates’ turn to criticize the Republicans’ proposed cuts to balance the state budget.

The GOP’s transportation budget cuts would “destroy” Minnesota’s transit systems, they told Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday during his latest roundtable discussion.

Thursday’s session was part of a series Dayton is holding to highlight the effects that an “all-cuts” Republican budget would have on Minnesotans — in this case, transit advocates say, hurting the poor, middle class, disabled and student populations.

“The proposed cuts that you see right now would destroy the system that makes us so strong,” said Jennifer Munt, president of Transit for Livable Communities and a member of the Met Council.

With the proposed cuts, Munt said, the GOP is essentially asking the Met Council, “Which limb do you want to amputate?”

The House omnibus bill would cut $138 million from transportation funding — dramatically more than its Senate counterpart — with $129 million of the reduction coming from state appropriations to the Metropolitan Council, a regional transit authority and the administrator of Metro Transit.

The two versions still must be resolved in conference committee over the coming weeks and are among 10 omnibus budget bills the Republican majority put forward to erase Minnesota’s $5 billion deficit.

“This [legislation negotiation] isn’t done by a long shot,” said House Transportation Committee Chairman Michael Beard.

Beard and the rest of his legislative colleagues are on break, but conference committees are set to continue their work next week.

Michelle Sommers, who represents 2,300 Metro Transit drivers and mechanics, said cuts included in the transportation bill would equal 550 employee layoffs.

Beard admitted that the Met Council cuts included in his bill are “too steep” but said he had little choice.

His original proposal would have backfilled cuts to the Met Council with $69 million from the County Transit Improvement Board, a move that he said “CTIB got all wound around the axle about.”

The temporary solution was ultimately dropped because the money had already been allocated to Central Corridor Light Rail line construction. Instead, Beard said, “The Met Council took a $69 million hosing.”

He called the governor’s discussion series a “media stunt” populated by many of the 78 who testified in his committee before the bill was forwarded to the House floor. “It was actually discouraging,” Beard said, “to see how many people are dependent on the government to move them around.”

Advocates painted a much broader picture of the economic and cultural benefits a robust transit system has on local economies.

“I really believe that the transit system helps drive the economy,” Met Council Chairwoman Susan Haigh said at the discussion, and her sentiments were echoed by members of both the Minneapolis and St. Paul chambers of commerce.

Haigh stressed that in the current economic downturn, it’s important for the state to invest in the future, which to supporters means such passenger and commuter rail as the Central Corridor light rail project and the Southwest Corridor, which is in its infancy.

The House bill also would cut all Minnesota Department of Transportation funding for rail projects and would prohibit the agency from spending on any such projects.

Republicans, many of whom oppose rail transit, aim to fund roads and bridges statewide, a constitutionally mandated duty.

The House transportation bill would hit the Met Council much harder than its Senate counterpart (which cuts about $40 million from the agency), and DFLers have long complained that — as with much of the budget — Republicans are targeting larger cities when making transit cuts.

Beard admitted to the regional disparity.

The Met Council would take a real hit (meaning it will receive less next biennium than it did this budget cycle), while rural transit would actually receive $1 million more in his bill.

In the end, Beard said, the House cuts to the Twin Cities transit will come closer to the Senate’s level before they begin negotiations with Dayton.

The governor reiterated after the discussion that he won’t personally step in to the negotiation process until the budget bills have been reconciled in conference committee.

As he’s said in the past, Dayton held the forum “primarily to listen and to learn.”

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Andrew Richner on 04/22/2011 - 09:45 am.

    Michael Beard paints a pretty unflattering self-portrait in this article. Saying CTIB “got all wound around the axle,” about the state appropriating their funds, equating MTC ridership to being “dependent on the government” to move around, openly admitting to pitting rural areas against urban areas … The only point where he doesn’t come off as spiteful and hate-filled is when he talks about reconciliation between the House and Senate bills.

  2. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 04/22/2011 - 01:51 pm.

    “Dependent on government to move them around.” There the Republicans go again, indicating their disdain for the poor, the disabled, the elderly, children, and anyone else who isn’t cool enough to know that you have to drive a car to be a real American.

  3. Submitted by Garrett Peterson on 04/22/2011 - 03:15 pm.

    Rep. Beard is right. People who own cars and drive aren’t dependent on the government at all. It’s not like the government builds and maintains roads or anything like that. Nope, only people who use transit are dependent on the government. What a bunch or freeloaders!

  4. Submitted by Elsa Mack on 04/23/2011 - 02:45 am.

    Interesting that Beard thinks that actually meeting with and listening to the Metro transit people is a publicity stunt. Why on earth would anyone care what they think? I also love how he blames them for not letting him raid funds already allocated to the Central Corridor.

    I am temporarily living in a city with a fantastic transit system. Granted, it’s bigger and denser. But it’s a chicken and egg kind of issue – if we had more mass transit, people wouldn’t need cars or the space for them. When I go home I’m going to miss being able to get across the city quickly and easily.

  5. Submitted by William Gross on 04/23/2011 - 08:12 am.

    When I first registered at MinnPost I actually believed it might be an unbiased source for news. I was so wrong. This is just one more left leaning, elitist paper. The slanted view of the writer is obvious to anyone who doesn’t drink the kool aid. This is my very first, as well as my very last, comment about this paper.

  6. Submitted by Dave Seitz on 04/24/2011 - 07:26 am.

    The best plan of action is for the bus and train lines to become fully self funded. If public transportation does not need a dime from Govt through any type of subsidy or revenue stream then it is purely PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION! As a fully self funded entity no group from any party could hold anyone hostage with funding cuts rate hikes or schedules. No longer could folks claim that gas taxes pay for bus or lightrail lines or that subsidies from out state pay the costs.
    As long as public transportation is beholden to the govt for funding it will remain a pawn to be kicked around.

  7. Submitted by Everett Flynn on 04/26/2011 - 01:06 pm.

    @Dave Seitz, public transportation is not and never has been intended to be a fully self-funded amenity. The whole idea is for the community, for the state, to subsidize transportation of many types in order to create a vibrant, efficient transportation system. Our ports aren’t fully self-funded. Our freeways and roadways are far from fully self-funded. Why single out mass transit and insist that it needs to be fully self-funded? If your roads and bridges and freeways were to be fully self-funded, the gas tax would need to be increased by about $2 or $3 dollars a gallon in order to pay for all the pavement, maintenance, construction, property acquisition, etc.

    Mass transit modes like light rail and commuter rail trains mean that all of us require less freeway capacity to move around. It’s fine if you want to maintain the bigoted presumption echoed by Beard that only poor people use transit. But please stop parroting the ridiculous suggestion that mass transit ought to be “fully self-funded.”

    And, look at it this way….. ALL transportation is “public transportation.” At least, it is unless you are driving your car only on private roads. Don’t you see that? Roads, freeways, trains, ports, airports — they are all pieces of the same whole. And they are all very heavily subsidized by the government, and that’s because government is supposed to do those kinds of things for the people. Government is supposed to do that in order to facilitate commerce and vibrant communities.

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