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Transit not a Winner this Session

05/20/2013

For Immediate Release
Contact:   Hilary Reeves, 651-780-1415,
hilaryr@tlcminnesota.org

Legislature Fails to Seize Opportunity to Create Jobs, a Stronger Economy

Saint Paul, MN (May 20, 2013)--Despite rising demand for transit, increasing bicycling and walking, and needs for road repair, the Minnesota legislature failed to act decisively on transportation this session. Instead lawmakers passed a bill that does not include any increase in the regional sales tax for transit (or for bicycle/pedestrian connections) or any increase in revenue for roads. The new law keeps the region and state far behind competing regions that invest far more in transit.

“Minnesota had a chance to make a decisive move on transportation but decided not to take it. Instead of moving sensibly to expand our transit system, we’re stalled. No increase in local bus, minimal progress on rail. This is a huge disappointment, especially to all the people who need more affordable options for getting to work and school, and for the health and economic vitality of our region. Minnesota is not a national leader today,” said Barb Thoman, executive director of Transit for Livable Communities, speaking on behalf of the Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition.

The law as passed does include $37 million from the general fund for the Southwest Light Rail transit line, but $81 million more is needed next year for the line to secure a federal match and start construction. The law provides the state’s share of operating costs for the Blue Line (Hiawatha), Green Line (Central Corridor, opening 2014), and North Star rail (totaling $18 million), and some additional funding for greater Minnesota transit ($11 million). The small amount of funding for Greater Minnesota transit will only allow the state to meet 60-65% of the identified transit needs rather than meeting the statutory goal of 80% by 2015. The law also includes $300 million in trunk highway bonding for roads.

Throughout the session, the Governor backed a 1/2-cent increase in the regional sales tax for transit. The bill passed by the Senate included this sales tax increase and funds for roads and bridges statewide.

Polls taken early in the session indicated that 91% of Minnesotans support state investment in transit and a majority support including bicycling and walking as part of transportation funding. A business group, The Itasca Project, released a study showing a large return on investments in transit.

The Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition advocated for a 3/4-cent increase in the regional sales tax for transit, which would give Minnesota an economically-competitive transit system in fifteen years.

The 52 members of the Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition signed-on explicitly supporting increasing funding by $330 million per year to pay for more transit, including local bus and rail, safe, accessible connections by bicycling and walking, and transit expansion in greater Minnesota. The coalition represents labor, health, environmental, social service, and faith-based organizations as well as developers and businesses.

“With all this explicit support for raising revenue for transportation through increased taxes, we thought the legislature would act. We know many leaders support this vision and see the trends. They see how other states and cities are not holding back on transit investments. It’s a shame that the legislature didn’t seize this opportunity this year. We will redouble our efforts because we know our state needs these investments,” said Thoman.

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