For those who may have been unaware, the Minnesota legislature is presently proposing drastic cuts to the funding of transit that will, if it stands, send shock waves through the Twin Cities Metro Transit and cause undue hardship to many who rely on public transportation. Upon close examination, there appears to be no justifiable or good reason for the draconian measures. If one didn’t know any better it would appear the legislators were motivated by some kind of bias against city dwellers or at least certain segments of city dwellers.
Presently, both the House and Senate transportation committees are proposing deep cuts. The Metropolitan Council has said that it needs 74 million over the two-year budgetary period to keep pace and operate on its current level.
Yet the Republican led legislature’s proposal fails to acknowledge the request and instead has decided to cut the existing Metro Transit budget by about 24 million over the next two years. This would leave the Met Council $122 million short of what it needs to operate over the period.
According to Met Council Chairperson Adam Duininck, who called a press conference to denounce the conservative effort to gut Metro area transit, “the measure would force the regional planning body to cut transit service by 40 percent. That could involve paring or eliminating existing routes and hours for both bus service and light-rail transit.” And the council has said it would cause a fare increase of at least 25 cents.
Conservative Republicans set the stage for this hatchet job by creating a straw man and pretending that outstate and Greater Minnesota was being sucked dry by the Metro area, but that contention has no basis in fact. They have placed their focus on roads and bridges, which no doubt there should be money to improve, but it doesn’t have to be one or the other. The current proposals set aside over $330 million for roads and bridges.
Transportation Committee member Rep. John Peterburg (R-24A), who represents Owatonna and Waseca, campaigned on this prevarication. He wrote that his constituents “are tired of paying their full share of their own transportation costs and the user fee just so some of it can go to metro areas.”
Fellow conservative and Transportation Committee member Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-21B), the representative for the Zumbrota, Wabasha, and Lake City area, made a similar charge during his campaign. He promised to “work for transportation funding that keeps locally generated transportation taxes working on projects right here, rather than exporting them to the metro area.”
However, their claims are not true. The metro area actually pays more than its fair share in taxes — more than the outstate areas. A Star Tribune article recently reported that “outstate counties receive 68 percent of the state’s total transportation spending while paying less than half of transportation-dedicated state taxes and that a similar pattern exists in state funding of education and aid to cities.”
Cutting transit doesn’t seem to make sense considering that transit takes people to work and conservatives are big sticklers for people working.
Transit riders also benefit drivers by helping reduce road congestion, making drivers’ commutes a little less hectic.
Many rural folks also depend on transit and will be hurt by this measure as well, especially in places like West Central Minnesota, where those who no longer drive are dependent on the local Rainbow Rider line. Also, the Gilbert, Virginia, and Itasca County areas stand to face major cuts in service on its nationally acclaimed Arrowhead Transit.
Republicans had campaigned against light rail, criticizing its cost effectiveness while saying that it would be better to increase metro bus routes, which they claimed is the most effective mode of mass transit. But their proposed budget would cut buses as well as light rail.
Moreover, there is a budget surplus ($1.65 billion) at last count, and since the Metro area has the largest population area and pays more into the state treasure chest, shouldn’t get a little more back, at least to cover their transit needs. So budgetary concerns don’t explain this seemingly mean-spirited move.
Republican leaders have misled people by throwing the word “subsidy” around to make it appear that people in the Twin Cities are looking for a hand out, and that Twin City transit riders don’t pay their fare, but statistics don’t back this claim either. And just about everyone benefits from subsidies, including the business community. The roads are subsidized through our tax dollars. There aren’t any toll roads in Minnesota.
And this is one of their more disingenuous claims since they have to be aware that public transit the world over is undergirded by public subsidy otherwise riders may find the costs too prohibitive.
Furthermore, conservatives can’t claim its bad for business, because studies have shown and the business community agrees, that good mass transit provides for a healthy and vibrant business climate. In fact, rail transit’s fixed location makes it a magnet for economic development. Don’t Republicans promote themselves as pro-business?
Motivation for the refusal to fund transit has no logical basis. It supports working people, the majority of whom are White; it connects people to jobs, business and commerce, even entertainment, which outstaters use to watch their favorite Twin City sports team or musician/artist/entertainer.
People would be up in arms and offended if someone were to suggest this very heartless and irresponsible move was motivated by the perception of some White legislators and White people that providing money for transit was subsidizing Black people.
After all, many Republicans on the Transportation Committee loudly proclaim to be Christians and every Christian knows that the abiding rule for how to treat your neighbor is the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would want to be treated.”
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In its ardor to block spending for urban transit, the GOP legislators have also acted to block any spending for inter-city passenger rail. The Trump budget eliminates funding for AMTRAK long distance trains, which would kill the Empire Builder…the only inter-city train currently serving Minnesota. . Plus, the State GOP has zero’d out the Governor’s request for funding planned additional trains to Duluth and Chicago.
Who does this hurt the most? Outstate communities that will lose access to mass transit include E. Grand Forks, Moorhead, Detroit lakes/Brainerd, St Cloud, Redwing, Winona, La Crescent, and planned service to Cambridge, Hinckley, and Duluth., Future routes including Northfield, Owatana., Albert lea, and Rochester are in jeopardy.
Many of these areas are served by GOP legislators, yet they blindly follow the anti-transit cadre without understanding that their constituents also benefit from an improved multi-modal transportation system.