Unlike last year, Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday excluded the Southwest Corridor light-rail project from his state public works funding proposal, over the pleas of some other DFLers.
The governor instead is opting to fund construction of the light-rail line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie with a quarter-cent increase in sales taxes in the metro area.
Last year Dayton proposed $25 million in public works funding through the bonding bill to build Southwest. The state eventually approved $2 million.
His new emphasis on a metro sales tax signals a reduced state commitment to transit at a time when the Twin Cities is competing with other cities for federal transit money.
“We would have liked to have seen $50 million for transit in the bonding bill because of the statewide benefits and the strong signal it would send to the federal government about the state’s support for the Southwest light-rail line,” said Hilary Reeves, a spokeswoman for Transit for Livable Communities, an advocacy group.
A quarter-cent increase would bring the portion of the sales tax dedicated to transit to a half-cent in Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Washington and Dakota counties. Scott and Carver counties would pay a quarter-cent transit tax for the first time.
The sales-tax hike would not be earmarked for building Southwest, but used to develop and operate a variety of metro transit services, including buses.
One key DFLer balked at Dayton’s reliance on sales taxes to build the Southwest line.
“That’s a difficult thing to anticipate, whether we are going to pass a specific kind of tax increase in a year like this,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul.
Hausman, who chairs a House committee that oversees bonding, said the DFL bonding proposal will include $37 million in state funds for building Southwest, and about $13 million for other light-rail and bus-rapid-transit projects.
“I still believe there should be a significant state partnership,” she said.
The Southwest line is expected to cost $1.25 billion to build. The Metropolitan Council, which oversees the project, is counting on the federal government to pay half the cost. Metro counties will cover another 40 percent.
The Met Council is counting on the state to pay 10 percent, but so far only $7 million of the expected $125 million has come through.