Conference committee considering transportation funding bills that increase road funding, cut SWLRT, $53 million from Metro Transit
The Transportation Finance Conference Committee hosted a hearing April 20 at the State Capitol on the House and Senate omnibus transportation bills that are part of the Minnesota House Republicans’ proposed state budget.
Opponents argue that the bill, which will increase funding for roads and bridges by up to $6 billion over the next decade by reallocating revenue from the general fund to a transportation account, is regressive in its prioritization of roadway development over mass transit investments.
Advocates say it will provide a much-needed boost to under-funded roadways and bridges, especially in rural areas.
Many DFL representatives worry that the bill will divide the metro area from rural parts of the state as the regions vie for conflicting transportation funding allocations, as well as disproportionately shift the state’s spending away from public services and education.
The hearing opened the floor to public commentary on HF 861, which includes cuts that would potentially raise public transit rates by as much as 50 cents and reduce services across the metro by an estimated 40 percent. The bill would also eliminate transit expansions, including the planned Southwest light rail transit. The Metropolitan Council would endure a cut of around $53 million.
Many of those who testified expressed concern that the bill’s cuts would affect disabled, elderly, and low-income people, making it difficult to travel to everyday destinations like work or the grocery store and decreasing the affordability of the ride for people who are struggling financially.
Met Council Chair Adam Duininck, who spoke before the public testimonies, addressed the scope of the impacts, including those of Metro Mobility, which serves disabled and elderly people throughout the region. He said the state is not recognizing the increase in demand for that service.
“We have testified before both the House and Senate about the continued and accelerated growth of this federally mandated service. By failing to address the growing demand of Metro Mobility and ignoring the budget deficit, these bills would mean people who are elderly and disabled would see significant fare increases and service reductions, leaving in place only the minimal services that are required by law.”
Duininck also spoke about the bills’ deep cuts to regular route buses as well as the elimination of Metrolink, a transit extension service that serves suburbs like Plymouth, Hastings, Stillwater, Oak Grove, and other communities, and is often used by seniors at assisted living facilities.
“We need to be having a conversation about how to expand our transit, not reduce it,” Duininck said.
David Thornton, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, also spoke, calling attention to a provision in the bill that would reallocate revenue from the Motor Vehicle Title Transfer Fee from the Environmental Fund and into the Transportation Priorities Fund by 2020.
Thornton testified that the revocation of the Motor Vehicle Title Transfer Fee from the Environmental Fund, combined with an anticipated 61 percent cut in federal grants by the Trump Administration, will impose major cuts to agency staff and resources.
Around 60 members of the public, including business and agency leaders, organizers, and transit riders gave two-minute testimonies. Minneapolis resident Amity Foster spoke about her daily use of public transit. Foster said that she doesn’t drive due to her epilepsy, and addressed how the cuts would significantly decrease the mobility of other people who don’t drive.
“I think it can be very easy to wash transit riders’ stories off as sad – they are not. Cutting off transit access cuts off access to jobs, it cuts off access to affordable housing, it cuts kids off from education, and it cuts families off from each other. With the proposed fare hikes, with the service cuts, with no real funding from the Minnesota legislature, I wonder what I’m going to have to cut out of my life,” Foster said.
The committee will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Monday, April 24 in room 120 at the State Capitol to continue the hearings.
Contact Laci Gagliano at [email protected]