Posted: 06/21/16 14:16
by Dave Mindeman
We are stuck at an impasse for a special session. Most of it seems to be attributable to the House GOP position that they will not support light rail.
The quotes are ominous:
Kurt Daudt: "I don't know yet if this is a sticking point that's going to hold everything else up. I hope it's not, but at this point there are not enough votes to pass these bills if Southwest light rail is included."
Rep. Peggy Bennett: "The Southwest Light Rail Transit project (SWLRT) costs $1.77 billion total. The state can pay up to $135 million for construction and is expected to pay a portion of the $28.7 million in annual operations costs."
Tax Chair Greg Davids calls it a "non-starter". They seem to want it to die.
So let's consider the realities of this:1) Funding
Let's look at Rep. Bennett assertion about cost. First of all, of that $1.77 billion cost, about $1 billion of it will come from the Federal government. But that $1 billion is not going to be available much longer - it will go somewhere else if Minnesota does not invest their own portion. We may not get another chance at that level of investment. And let us also be clear, this is not money that is raising anyone's taxes. The $1 billion appropriation has already been accounted for in the Fed budget - it will go somewhere, so it is important that Minnesota finally get a share. We already pay much more in Fed taxes than we get back in benefits.2) How to pay for it
The House Republicans assert that greater Minnesota wants no party of light rail. They do not benefit and the costs are too high. Well, if greater MN was being asked to pay for it, I would agree with them. But they are not. The funding will come from a seven county metro sales tax..not a statewide tax. There may also be some bonding money involved which is paid back statewide, but there are also plenty of outstate projects involved for which the Metro area gets no benefit. The House GOP assertions are bogus.3) The cost will continue to rise
As we continue to debate this, the cost of this project will probably be greater than the $1.77 billion now projected. And that increase will be on us - our portion. We have flailed away on this project for years with local arguments and routes....all of which has ended up increasing the costs. If we do not do this now, I fear it will fail completely and the Fed money goes away and we lose out on our entire investment up to this point.4) Killing special session wipes out other agreements
There are plenty of good things that benefit the entire state waiting to be agreed upon in a special session. House Republicans seem to believe that they are making political points by this boycott. Yet, the greater MN constituency that they say they are protecting is really not affected by the light rail issue - they may not get full benefits, but they are not paying for it either. Therefore, allowing all the other agreements to die because of a political point on metro rail is doing a disservice to greater MN.5) This is a necessary investment for future growth
The House GOP only discusses light rail in terms of costs. They ignore the benefits...and they ignore their chamber allies who want this to move forward. Transit is an investment that has a high rate of return. The future is full of people who want to use transit instead of cars. Of commuters who want an alternative. Of development projects waiting for the routes to be determined. And it is our method of competing with other metro areas that already are way ahead of us on mass transit. Metro areas that will compete with us for businesses and educated workers.
To me, there is no question that the investment in SWLRT is no-brainer. But even for the House Republicans that do not like it, it is not taking funds away from your prioritized projects. This special session can be quickly adjudicated and all the benefits that the House feels it has lost can be restored.
Light rail is an important aspect of the future for Minnesota. Letting a special session die over an unwillingness to make that investment is foolhardy.
And really, Speaker Daudt, you do not have to fear the trains.