A hard-fought campaign. A few gains, but not the big win.

from Hilary Reeves, Communications Director
This blog post also appeared on www.transit4mn.org

The Minnesota legislature closed the 2013 session without providing the new revenue our region needs to grow transit and make connections by bicycling and walking. There is disappointment all around.

 

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“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 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 Governor and the Senate both supported a half-cent increase in the regional sales tax for transit. Negotiations on transportation continued until the very end, with several components of our bill (a 1/2 cent sales tax for transit, with dedication for bike/walk, plus other measures) very much in play. However, leadership in the House believed transit could wait until a future legislative session.
In the end, we did not win an increase in the regional sales tax for transit. This means:
  • Instead of an annual increase of 1% in funding for local bus, we have no new funding for local bus service.
  • No dedicated allocation of the sales tax for safe, accessible bicycling and walking projects.
  • Except for the Southwest LRT (see below) no funds to build-out the regional transit system. No new funds for the Bottineau line, Gateway corridor, other LRT and BRT, or arterial rapid bus on twelve high-volume routes.
There were some points of consolation despite the overall loss. 
Here is what was approved for the biennium, including elements pushed by the Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition and/or members of the coalition:
  • No cuts to general fund allocation to transit ($130 million) plus $18 million for the state’s share of operating costs of the Blue line (Hiawatha LRT), Green Line (Central Corridor LRT, which opens 2014), and Northstar Commuter Rail.
  • A one-time $37 million general fund allocation for Southwest LRT, which keeps planning/engineering moving. The project will now need $81 million next year from the state to secure a federal match and start construction. The state’s share of the project is 10% overall.
  •  A small increase for transit in Greater Minnesota ($256,000 extra from the general fund plus $10.8 million leased vehicle sales tax). This meets only 60-65% of the need in greater Minnesota, rather than the statutory goal of meeting 80% by 2015.
  •  $500,000 for Safe Routes to Schools–the first time the state has allocated funding to this program.
  • Language allowing Minneapolis to cover capital cost of streetcars through tax increment financing.
  • $300 million in Trunk Highway bonding for roads. This is not new money, but simply approval to bond against expected future highway fund revenue.
  •  Language that requires MnDOT to fund the new Transportation Alternatives program (which funds bicycling and walking projects, among many other categories) under the federal MAP-21 law at the same level as previous years.
  • Language that encourages the Met Council to steer some of funds it budgets for public outreach and input to on-the-ground grassroots groups and local business associations.
  • Language that facilitates efforts by MnDOT and the Met Council to work more closely with community based employment assistance firms and training facilities to meet the hiring goals set by the state’s Human Rights department. Language about economically disadvantaged businesses will encourage more contracting opportunities as well.
  • Both transportation policy pieces contain reporting provisions that will help track outcomes and measure progress.
The Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition fought long and hard.
91percentagreePolls 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 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
69percentfavor-WEB
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, faith-based, and community-based social justice organizations
as well as developers and businesses.
Thank you to the countless volunteers who spent their time and energy working on the campaign by phone banking, showing up at the State Capitol, writing letters, making buttons and signs, and even doing data entry. A special thanks to the organizers, lobbyists and communications teams in charge of the campaign and all those who lent their expertise in the process.
Our dedicated coalition and volunteers fought until the end and have set the stage for 2014. We will continue to fight until we get the new funding for transit, bicycling and walking that Minnesota deserves.
Take a short rest – we have a lot of work ahead of us!
Thanks to Ethan Fawley (Fresh Energy), Sherry Munyon (MPTA), Russ Adams (Alliance for Metropolitan Stability), and (from Transit for Livable Communities) Dave Van Hattum, Hilary Reeves, and Barb Thoman for contributions to this summary.

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