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Metro transit taking potential hit

Published (3/25/2011)
By Mike Cook
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The Metropolitan Council is taking a hard hit in the omnibus transportation finance bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Michael Beard (R-Shakopee), HF1140 was amended and approved March 23 by the House Ways and Means Committee, two days after it was approved by the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee. It is expected to be on the House floor March 28. A companion, SF898, sponsored by Sen. Joe Gimse (R-Willmar), was scheduled to be acted upon March 24 by the Senate Transportation Committee.

Sparking the most controversy was a plan to transfer $69.2 million from a fund designed for rail and bus rapid transit purposes and to use it to help fill a $129.9 million General Fund reduction for the Metropolitan Council. That assistance was removed by the House Taxes Committee.

“CTIB sends operating subsidy money to Met Council now. This is nothing new. We’re just telling them to send more and stop obligating us to railroad lines until we get through this economic urgency and support the bus system and rail system we have,” Beard said. “I hope they’ll come around to doing that on their own. That’s where the issue will lie.”

The $69.2 million would have come from the Counties Transit Improvement Board, whose activities are funded with a quarter-cent sales tax in Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties.

Commissioners from Dakota, Hennepin and Ramsey counties told the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee that the fund-taking amounted to stealing by the state.

Beard countered that in dire economic times, all avenues need to be explored.

“I think it is a huge mistake, and I think it sends a terrible message to local government in terms of the precedent that the state is going to take it,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls).

However, Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville), chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, noted the transfer would not be unprecedented because the first $30 million in the fund was provided to the Met Council for operating costs.

Saying she couldn’t recall a bill affecting local option sales taxes bypassing the House Taxes Committee, Rep. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) unsuccessfully offered an amendment to send the bill there.

Holberg later successfully amended the bill by removing the CTIB fund transfer. However, she urged board and Met Council representatives to see if they can work together on a potential solution.

Other provisions in the bill include: driver’s education would include instruction on carbon monoxide poisoning and a $2 check-off would be placed on driver’s license and state identification cards applications to go towards organ donation educational programs.

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