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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Let's Be Completely Honest About Minnesota Transportation

Category: Transportation
Posted: 04/14/17 07:08, Edited: 04/14/17 07:08

by Dave Mindeman

I want to follow some logic here.

When it comes to transportation in Minnesota, what are the House Republicans looking for? What is the purpose of fighting against light rail transit tooth and nail?

Because here is what I can see. Light rail has long been a priority of the Federal government to promote mass transit in metro areas. They have a lot of earmarked money that will go to metro authorities that can prove the need and the proper planning - and a cooperative state funding mechanism which Minnesota has in a metro sales tax.

The state portion is mostly a good faith contribution. The bulk of funding comes from those Federal dollars. I won't say that the state portion is insignificant, but let's say it gets a good return on that investment.

Now the caveat to this is that those Federal funds cannot be changed to fund other projects. It is legally bound to be used only for rail transit - not roads and bridges. And if we cannot use it the way it is earmarked, it will then be offered to the next metro area that meets the guidelines.

The MN GOP House Republicans make a couple of false arguments. First, they insinuate that they are protecting rural Minnesota's roads and bridges. They have falsely stated that somehow light rail takes money away from those needed road and bridge repairs. Federal funds for light rail can go nowhere else - it is how the funding operates. Secondly, they make this fantasy argument that by rejecting light rail funding, that somehow they are giving some kind of windfall to the taxpayers of Minnesota. Not true. In fact, they are not saving taxpayer dollars here or anywhere. That money is appropriated for that purpose. It doesn't go back into the US treasury. It doesn't get rebated back to the state. It will simply go to another project in some other state. And Minnesota's portion of the tax payments go with it.

Rural Minnesota absolutely needs road and bridge repairs. But it is an issue that is separate from metro transit. It must be funded via the gas tax money or the general fund or some other statutory method. But the MN GOP is disingenuous to be making rail transit an us vs them false equivalency. It is an "alternative fact", and the GOP needs to be honest about what they are saying.

Minnesota has the 3rd largest state road system in the country. That requires enormous investment. But we are squandering our opportunities to fund this properly - and we are blaming the wrong things for not meeting those needs.

Frankly, going forward, the revenue we generate now will start to dwindle to a trickle when it comes to the gas tax and earmarked transportation money. Cars are using less gas - companies are using alternative fuels. But we will still need road and bridge repair.

Unless we begin to approach our transportation needs in an honest, straightforward, and non-political way, we are going to go back to the days of ever increasing budget deficits....year after year.

I don't want to do that again....do you?
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