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Road-Building Takes Back Seat in Ventura Transit Plan
By Dan Olson
January 23, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of Gov. Ventura's budget proposal.
Click for audio RealAudio

Transit fans are mostly pleased with the budget proposed by Gov. Ventura, but supporters of road and bridge building are unhappy because the governor does not propose using a big chunk of the projected budget surplus to build roads and bridges. Last session, by contrast, lawmakers and the governor approved spending $600 million in addition to billions already dedicated to transportation.

Transportation Details
Transit:In FY 2000, over 76 million trips were taken on Metro Transit buses, an increase of 22 percent over the last four years. The budget includes $30 million (plus increased levy authority) in new funding to maintain this increased level of bus system ridership and expand it, and to improve Metro Mobility service. Greater Minnesota transit funding is also increased by $3.1 million to maintain current levels of service.

Transportation: Increasing use of the state's roadways, depreciation of existing roads and bridges, higher constructions costs, and increased federal funding for construction are driving a $96 million (Trunk Highway Fund) increase in the state's budget for road construction, raising the total road construction budget to approximately $586 million per year. Funding will be used to support the state's Moving Minnesota transportation investment strategy, including increases for ongoing repair and replacement of roads and bridges, and for construction to improve the performance of the interregional corridors and eliminate bottlenecks in metropolitan areas.

- Budget executive summary
THE NEW CHAIR of the Minnesota Senate Transportation Committee, St. Paul DFLer Randy Kelly, says the Governor's transportation budget sends a mixed message.

"in some areas with respect to commuter rail, there's significant increases being proposed to further the North Star corridor. However, it is a status quo of the current system," Kelly says.

Gov. Ventura wants lawmakers to approve selling $115 million dollars in state-backed bonds to match federal dollars for construction of the North Star commuter rail line from St. Cloud to downtown Minneapolis.

Ted Mondale, appointed by Ventura as chairman of the Metropolitan Council, says the governor proposes $30 million additional dollars to meet public bus-service expenses. Mondale says the commuter-rail proposal is consistent with the governor's pledge to improve transit in the region.

"If we could get it done, that means in this first four years we'd have light rail, a busway, commuter rail. That's more change in this area than we've had in 40-50 years since we ripped up the old systems," says Mondale.

Lin Barnes, president of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, a lobby group, is unhappy with Gov. Ventura's transportation proposals.

"(I am) very disappointed in his message that this $75 tab fee that he's proposing by 2004; this is not good for transportation funding," says Barnes.

Once again, Gov. Ventura proposes that Minnesota vehicle owners pay no more than $75 to renew their annual license fee. The money from tab renewal is constitutionally dedicated to road and bridge building. So, reducing the fee means less money and that creates a hole in the dedicated fund. Last session the governor proposed a transportation funding package that also proposed reducing the tab fee. He and transit supporters thought they could fill the hole with money from the state's general fund - money that isn't dedicated. That money could then be used to fund transit - bus and rail projects. Lawmakers didn't buy it.

Gov. Ventura told listeners to Minnesota Public Radio's Midday after his budget announcement that the transportation ball is in the lawmakers court. (Listen to entire interview)

"Last year I submitted a complete budget that would have paid for transportation for the next 10 years. That budget was rejected, that proposal was rejected and they approved $400 million of one-time spending, so I felt it must not be that big of priority if the rejected it last year. So if there's going to be a transportation package put together, let the Legislature do it," Ventura said.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Randy Kelly says the state needs to spend an extra $10 billion over the next 20 years improve Minnesota's roads and bridges. He proposes using a portion of the projected revenue surplus.

"It would be my hope that we could, rather than give all the money back, that we could take approximately $250 million of that $925 million surplus, use it for one-time spending to meet some of the needs in transportation and then in future years infuse another $250 million dollars a year for the next 20 years into our transportation funding stream," Kelly says.

Rep. Carol Molnau, R-Chaska, and chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee says wait for the February revenue forecast before making predictions about how much extra to spend on roads and bridges.

"With the governor's budget coming out and the final figures coming out in February, we will be making some final decisions, but am not ready to make committment to if or to what amount," she says.

Absent from the governor's proposal was the trial balloon floated a few days ago to finance additional rail and bus service in the Twin Cities with an optional half-cent sales tax cities could vote to impose on consumers.

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