Photo by danswenson on Flickr
Late Monday night, the House passed its omnibus transportation bill on a vote of 70-61. Unfortunately, after having stripped a similar provision out in committee, Republican committee members re-inserted language to use the metro-wide sales tax revenue that was created as part of the 2008 funding package to backfill massive general fund cuts to Metro Transit. The Senate companion, meanwhile, passed out of the Senate Finance committee yesterday and is now awaiting action on the floor.
The bill cuts over $130 million from transit around the state. The proponents of the bill suggest that the cuts won’t be that bad, but their assumptions are based partly on an expectation that people will start buying cars at a faster rate than they are ever likely to do. It also assumes 100% shifts from two Metropolitan Council funds that should be protected: 1) the Livable Communities fund, which serves to promote transit-supportive development, and 2) the Right-of-Way-Acquisition Fund, which allows the Council and MnDOT to save millions by buying future transit and road right-of-way (including highways) before speculators drive up the costs.
Shifts from these funds are a bad idea, and pit transit against itself.
To make matters worse, even with the shifts, the reality is that Metro Transit would likely need about a 50-cent fare increase and a 10-20 percent cut in service under this budget. In a press release earlier this week, Dave Van Hattum of Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) warned “These cuts will hit everyone very hard,” noting that “63% of Metro Transit riders are going to work.”
Transit Partners, a coalition of groups including the Sierra Club, helped bring out business owners and transit users to testify in front of the transportation committee last week. Transit riders from the Metro—many of whom arrived by transit—and from out-state spoke passionately about the place of transit in their lives and the affect of cuts on their communities’ quality of life. A student from Apple Valley said she relies on Metro Transit to get to her job. Another student, originally from Indiana, said she chose the Twin Cities because of the transit system and said other friends do the same. Legislators also heard that rising fuel prices and dependence on oil are concerns.
The Minneapolis Regional Chamber also raised concerns about the cuts. Charlie Zelle, speaking on their behalf, spoke of corporate site selectors and the factors that determine where businesses locate. “Bold investment in transit attracts business,” Zelle said. “We see transit as critical to retain employees and businesses.”
Gary Ludwig, who runs the regional bus system in New Ulm, Minnesota, said legislators could cut funds, but they would end up trading “a $5 fare for a $500 ambulance,” speaking of local residents who use his service to get to medical appointments.
The Sierra Club North Star Chapter calls on legislators on both sides of the aisle to come together to find a solution that enables us to keep transit whole, and avoids fare hikes which would hurt Minnesotans who could afford it the least. A healthy transit system helps us grow our communities in a more sustainable manner, avoid sprawl, reduce congestion, and enables thousands of Minnesotans to get to and from their jobs in an affordable, environmentally-sound manner. To make sure your voice is heard in this important debate, contact your legislators directly, and bookmark Transit for Livable Community’s Keep Transit Moving website for up-to-the-minute updates.