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Ventura Budget Boosts Transit Project
By Dan Olson
January 29, 1999
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Part of MPR's budget series

Both road building and transit are winners in Governor Ventura's proposed budget. But two powerful lawmakers worry the governor's plan to cut the cost of vehicle license tabs will mean a big loss of road construction dollars for the future.

MANY VOTERS LIKE GOVERNOR VENTURA'S CALL to cut license fees. The tax is based on a vehicle's value. Buyers attracted to pricey sets of wheels, especially monster sport utility vehicles, pay tab fees of hundreds of dollars a year for several years. Governor Ventura would leave the value-based fee in place for new vehicles. But he proposes capping the cost of renewal at $75 a year. State Senator Carol Flynn, a DFLer from Minneapolis, and the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, says the proposal could mean a big loss for the state's road construction fund.

Flynn: If, in fact, you're losing $200 million a year, almost $400, almost half a billion to the fund, potentially, I think the people who rely on roads in Minnesota would feel that's not the tax they want to reduce in that amount.
Governor Ventura says the way to make up for the loss is to transfer money from the General Fund to the Highway Fund. But a transfer requires agreement from lawmakers each session. This raises the question, "What happens when the good times end, and lawmakers have to squeeze the budget to cover a deficit? ". The squeeze might end the transfer. State Representative Carol Molnau, a Republican from Chaska and Chair of the House Transporation Finance Committee, says Minnesota's license-tab tax is high, but it assures a flow of cash for planning road projects.
Molnau: The Federal Government demands we do long range planning, they do a six-year plan, so without the idea that those funds will be there, that could be a real huge problem for us.
Road-building interests say funding shortfalls could jeopardize plans for projects like the Brainerd bypass, a six mile $8 million project, or the new $9 million bridge planned for Highway 336 in the Detroit Lakes area.

On transit, Governor Ventura wants an additional $60 million to help build the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor light rail line in Minneapolis. LRT backers say the state money is needed to prove to federal officials the project has legislative support. The governor's request is contingent on the federal government's approving $200 million for the line.

Respresentative Molnau predicts the eventual cost of the Hiawatha Avenue line will exceed $500 million, or $50 million more than current estimates. Asking the state to make up the difference, she says, will force a trade-off between money for bus and rail.
Molnau: As far as other representatives on this issue, I know they are very divided, knowing there are not enough resources for all forms.
Governor Ventura proposes increasing Twin Cities public bus spending by 15 percent, much less than requested by Metro Transit. Ted Mondale, Ventura's appointment to head the Metropolitan Council, which runs the bus company, says the goal is to double Metro Transit's bus capacity.
Mondale: To double capacity, you'd have to purchase 900 buses, train the buses, and have four to five new service garages, that's not in the budget, but we'll get five, maybe seven to hopefully ten percent more rides and frequencies for people who are out there riding transit.
Pressure on lawmakers for more transit funding will build as consultants deliver a commuter rail study later this session. Senator Carol Flynn says creating the Northstar commuter rail corridor from St. Cloud to Minneapolis will be expensive.
Flynn: It means you have to buy time and rail on Burlington Norhtern Sante Fe and that's a lot of time and money, so that's a future plan.
There's no extra money in Governor Ventura's budget for commuter rail, but both he and his Transportation Commissioner say they support it's development.

Dan Olson covers urban affairs issues for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach him at