From Dave Van Hattum, Policy and Program Manager
The 2011 Minnesota Legislative session begans on Tuesday, January 4th. With a looming $6 billion budget deficit, Governor Dayton and the legislature face a very challenging new year.
Senator Joe Gimse (R – Wilmar) and Representative Mike Beard (R – Shakopee) are the new Chairs of the Senate and House Transportation Committees respectively. Transit advocates have an important role to play in educating the new members serving on these committees. A majority of members are new—11 of 17 on the House side and 9 of 14 in the Senate side. The committees should benefit from the experience of returning DFL members, including Senators Dibble, Rest and Sieben; and Representatives Champion, Hausman, Hornstein, Morrow and Nelson.
Leadership of the Republican caucus and of these committees have stated that they will be taking a new look at public transit, and in particular transitway projects. With construction underway (and a full funding grant agreement coming soon from the federal government) we trust the Central Corridor LRT project will stay on schedule for a 2014 opening. However, even with funds for transitways from the ¼ cent regional sales tax, there is no guarantee that progress on other regional transitways (Southwest, Bottineau, Gateway, Cedar Avenue, etc.) will stay on schedule.
Senate Transportation Committee Chair Gimse recently highlighted the urgency “to find ways to use transportation to help improve the state economy.” Transit, particularly when coupled with strategic land use, provides a strong foundation for a growing economy. Each dollar invested in transit provides over six dollars in economic benefits, including affordable mobility for those who can’t drive, reduced congestion delays, reduced auto ownership and operation costs, reduced air pollution, and savings when providing human services.
Expanding transit creates substantially more jobs than road expansion and contributes to a competitive economy by attracting footloose employers and workers. Finally, with a doubling of gas prices quite possible during Governor Dayton’s administration, expanding transit options provides a critical hedge against the impact of rising gas prices on household budgets.
Governor Dayton is likely to propose a billion dollar state bonding bill to stimulate the economy and put thousands of Minnesotans back to work. Numerous transitway projects, which were vetoed by Governor Pawlenty last year, would be a critical component of a 2011 bonding bill. Transit bonds projects, because of federal matching dollars, are one of the few bond investment that leverage significant federal dollars.
Much remains to be seen in how the new leadership of the Senate and House Transportation Committees will advance our state’s multimodal transportation system. A critical concern will be ensuring that transit service is not cut and transit fares remain affordable as solutions to the state budget problems are sought.
Both committees will benefit greatly from your input. TLC will provide bi-weekly legislative updates, and action alerts. Your personal stories and local advocacy (i.e. sharing your concerns with your legislators, and also city, county, and Met Council representatives), are essential to furthering our collective vision of building a 21-st century transit system.
Senate Transportation Budget and Policy Committee
Joe Gimse (R-Willmar) – CHAIR
Al DeKruif (R-Madison Lake)
Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis)
Paul Gazelka (R-Brainerd)
John Sterling Howe (R-Red Wing) Vice Chair
Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park)
Ted Lillie (R-Lake Elmo)
Tony Lourey (DFL-Kerrick)
Mike Parry (R-Waseca)
Roger Reinert (DFL-Duluth)
Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope)
David Senjem (R-Rochester)
Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport)
Pam Wolf (R-Spring Lake Park)
House Transportation Finance Division
Mike Beard (Chair) (R-Shakopee)
Mike Benson (R-Rochester)
Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan)
Bobby Jo Champion (DFL-Minneapolis)
Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley)
Kerry Gauthier (DFL-Duluth)
Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul)
Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis)
Deb Kiel (R-Crookston)
Ernie Leidiger (R-Mayer)
Terry Morrow (DFL-St. Peter)
Mark Murdock (R-Ottertail)
Rich Murray (R-Albert Lea)
Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park)
Tim Sanders (R-Blaine)
Ron Shimanski (R-Silver Lake)
Bruce Vogel (R-Willmar)