GOP leaders cut transit funding by $109M

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 12, 2011 - 11:25 PM

The cuts signal Republicans' opposition to commuter and light rail. The bill differs sharply from Gov. Mark Dayton's proposal.

Rejecting claims that transit cuts would cripple service, House and Senate leaders Thursday night slashed $109 million from Twin Cities bus and rail funding.

Republican leaders said the cuts were needed to plug a projected $5 billion state budget gap, but the decision also underscored their opposition to light rail and commuter rail.

The cuts, which would occur over the next two years, were approved without comment by voice vote in a House and Senate conference committee.

The transportation spending bill more closely resembles a House version that called for nearly $130 million in cuts to Twin Cities transit. The Senate version would have cut spending over two years by $36 million.

The final package of cuts also resembles the House bill in that it eliminates funding for planning high-speed passenger rail. Gov. Mark Dayton had recommended continuing funding at $1 million over two years and the Senate had approved $600,000.

And the legislation adopted a House provision that would allow earmarking some special metro transit sales tax revenue to operate existing bus routes. Revenue from the quarter-cent sales tax currently is designated for new transit development, including light rail.

The provision was pushed by GOP legislators, who said a priority should be on operating the current transit system rather than expanding it.

The reduction in general fund money for Twin Cities transit would affect the Metropolitan Council regional planning agency, which operates the bus and rail system. The cut eliminates all but $20 million in general fund money to the council for transit.

Met Council chair Susan Haigh had opposed the cuts, calling them "devastating." She said they could result in a 25-cent fare increase and substantial service cuts. Recently, the Met Council warned it might eliminate weekend service.

The transportation bill instructs the Met Council to rely on money from housing programs if needed to run transit. The bill also suggests the Met Council tap money used to pay for agency public relations and lobbying.

The bill that emerged Thursday night differed sharply from Gov. Mark Dayton's most recent proposal, which called for no cuts in general fund money for metro transit. Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, a member of the House transportation finance and policy committee, said Thursday that the steep cuts in metro transit could prompt the governor to veto the bill.

For outstate Minnesota, the legislation cuts transit funding by nearly $8 million.

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504

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