This week the Star Tribune rolled out a gloom-and-doom editorial responding to the just-released transportation conference committee bill ("Transit bill would hurt all of Minnesota," May 4). The time for debate is winding down: Minnesota needs a transportation bill.

Fortunately, there is some room for negotiation between the Republican majority Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. Here's a four-part compromise plan, focusing on transit, that serves all Minnesotans:

First — regular route transit service. The editorial accepts the Met Council's claim that there is still a 10 percent shortfall. But the new bill has $150 million more for regular service than the earlier House version. That includes $30 million above the base appropriation. The Met Council also gets automatic increases in the motor vehicle sales tax — its main subsidy. With that huge swing from the House position, the GOP has already bent over backward to fund "regular" transit. But it can go two steps further.

Step one: Put the new $30 million in the first year. Step two: Reserve an additional amount of Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) money for one year. The priority is to ensure no service cuts.

But in return we need a legislative audit of the Met Council's transportation programs. Widespread mistrust of the council's number is an underlying problem. We need to know where all the money is going and how we can cut costs instead of service. Giving the Met Council the benefit of the doubt for one year is not a deal-breaker — if there's a full audit and full accountability.

Second — dissolving the CTIB. This idea came from Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, the CTIB chair. The new bill is a kind of mandated "divorce settlement" — it divides 100 percent of available assets among the counties that paid that money in — a fact the editorial omits. As noted, some of this money should be reserved to ensure no service cuts. But let's also give the counties a cost-control incentive: Require that if some or all of that reserved money isn't needed, it will also be returned to the counties. Finally, let's delay the legislative "divorce settlement" for one year — let the CTIB counties work out their own terms. If they can't, we'll do it for them.

Third — Met Council governance. The new bill reforms the council, but Gov. Dayton will object — he appoints the council and the members serve at his pleasure. This issue is negotiable — partly because if Minnesota elects a Republican governor and House next year, all the proposed reforms will happen.

Fourth and finally — the bill requires explicit legislative approval for any new or extended light-rail line and prohibits certificates of participation — a kind of "fake bond" the Met Council plans to use for Southwest LRT. Frankly, these provisions are nonnegotiable. The Republicans — especially in the House — have simply had it with LRT boosters steamrolling Minnesota toward billions in giant construction boondoggles with no legislative say in the matter.

If there is no deal, this will be why.

The editorial claims stopping light rail "would do real and lasting harm to the Twin Cities' ability to develop a modern mass transit system, which in turn would damage the economic vitality of the entire state."

Nope. Not building an obsolete 19th-century system at 22nd-century prices will free up billions of dollars to build a 21st-century system at market prices. Let's get to work on that.

Bob "Again" Carney Jr. is a political activist in Minneapolis.