Hennepin and Ramsey counties held separate public hearings Tuesday regarding the possible increase of a transit-related sales tax. Each was sparsely attended, and formal action on the proposed hikes is expected next week.
The boards are considering raising the existing quarter-cent tax to a half-cent after a key funder of transit, the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), voted to disband by July 1. Since it was formed in 2008, CTIB has funneled nearly $1 billion to local transit projects.
Because Republican state legislators opted against funding light rail, transit planners had to figure out a way to raise money for big transit projects, such as the proposed Southwest and Bottineau light rail lines, which together will cost about $3.4 billion to build.
With CTIB out of the picture, metro counties are free to increase a transportation sales tax to a half cent — but public hearings are required before they do so. Hennepin County expects to raise $125 million a year by increasing the tax.
Six people spoke at the Minneapolis hearing; one person came forward in Ramsey County, and two wrote letters of support.
Minneapolis resident John Webster decried the timing of the Hennepin County hearing — a Tuesday afternoon — and what he characterized as scant notice of the Hennepin board meeting. "It's unconscionable, in my view," Webster said.
Bob "Again" Carney Jr., also of Minneapolis, said the board should refrain from acting on a tax hike because of uncertainty about federal funding for the Southwest and Bottineau light rail lines. (President Donald Trump's budget does not include federal money for those projects.)
"I hope you are laying out alternatives for buses and planning for automated driving," Carney said.
Frank Lorenz, of Edina, predicted businesses selling big-ticket items will flee Hennepin County. (The tax would apply to car and truck sales.)
But others supported the tax increase, including Raymond Zeran of the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades union — for the creation of construction jobs building the new lines. And Rachel Callanan, the American Heart Association's regional vice president for advocacy, lauded potential funding for more bikeways and pedestrian paths using the increased tax revenue.
Each county will vote on the increase June 13. If approved, the new tax would begin Oct. 1.
The counties will assume responsibility for the project within their respective borders, or share costs if a line serves two counties. Of the two, Hennepin County taxpayers will be hit the hardest.
CTIB was scheduled to pay 30 percent of both Southwest and Bottineau LRT, so Hennepin County would assume the unfunded amounts for both, as well as the remaining portion to build the Orange Line bus-rapid transit and the Riverview Line connecting Union Depot to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. All told, that amounts to $906 million.
In addition, Hennepin County will assume the state share of Southwest and Bottineau, and a portion of the Riverview line totaling $294 million.
Operating costs of existing and proposed lines will cost Hennepin an estimated $74.8 million. Ramsey County did not break out the cost of its projects, which include operating costs for the Green Line, as well as future costs for a portion of the Riverview line and the Gateway Gold Line bus-rapid transit.