A board that has contributed nearly $1 billion to metro area transit projects over the past nine years was expected to dissolve itself Wednesday, but a disagreement over how much it owes Dakota County derailed the plan.
The impasse left members of the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) frustrated, and the board’s future unclear.
CTIB had explored disbanding as a way to secure local funding for big and often controversial transit projects such as the $1.5 billion Bottineau Blue Line light-rail line connecting Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park. The move comes as Republican legislators have pushed back on funding LRT projects, leaving transit planners to find other ways to raise the money and qualify for federal matching funds.
If CTIB were dissolved, the counties that make it up — Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, Anoka and Washington — could increase the current metro sales tax from a quarter-cent to a half-cent for transit and transportation purposes. Had CTIB disbanded, Hennepin and Ramsey counties expected to raise the tax, creating a pool of transit money.
But Dakota County’s reticence over the past week hamstrung those plans. At issue is the amount of money it claims it is owed after CTIB pays its bills and makes good on funding commitments to Bottineau, Southwest LRT, the Orange Line Interstate-35W bus-rapid transit, and other projects. The county claims CTIB owes it $29 million, while other CTIB members say the correct amount is $16.5 million. CTIB and Dakota County appear to be using different funding formulas to reach their final numbers.
While the majority of CTIB’s members voted Wednesday to disband by July 1 (with Dakota County’s two representatives dissenting), each county board must now approve dissolution.
But Dakota County has vowed to resist unless its funding demand is met. If one county votes down the resolution, dissolution cannot occur.
“I got my marching orders,” said Mary Liz Holberg, a Dakota County commissioner and CTIB member.
CTIB Chair Peter McLaughlin, who is also a Hennepin County commissioner, noted that the amount set aside for Dakota County was sweetened in recent days, increasing from $13.3 million to $16.5 million. “It’s time for Dakota County to get off the number they’ve been on for weeks if we’re going to get to an agreement,” he said.
Wednesday’s flare-up was just the latest incident of bad blood. Last year, Dakota County voted to leave CTIB by 2019, claiming it contributed more revenue to the board than what it got in return. Since 2008, Dakota County has collected $122 million in gross receipts from the transit tax, but has received about $53 million in transit grants.