The 2023 legislative session set a brisk pace after gaveling in on January 3, and it did not slow down. For the seven-county metro region, the Met Council worked tirelessly to ensure legislators and Gov. Tim Walz delivered a new sustainable funding source for transit operations, landmark investments in our regional parks and trails, significant investments in clean water and repairs to sewer pipes, and more.
“The region will benefit from these investments for years to come,” said Chair Charlie Zelle. “It was an exceptional session and will lead to a great deal of work ahead.”
Lesley Kandaras, interim general manager of the Met Council’s Metro Transit division, called it a “transformational session” for transportation in the region. “Financial stability for our transportation services and programs means a system that works for all the region’s residents,” she said.
Sweeping transportation legislation
The transportation bill brought a new sustainable revenue source for region’s transportation system with a ¾-cent regional transportation sales tax that goes into effect in October 2023. These funds will be split between the region’s counties (17%) and the Met Council (83%). The Met Council share will primarily go toward transit operations, maintenance, and capital projects, with a small portion focused on active transportation like walking and biking.
"Sustainable funding for transit will allow us to provide and maintain a system that helps address our region's mobility, equity, and climate goals," said Zelle.
Other areas of investment include:
Regional public safety
Safety starts in our public spaces where people gather, meet, and connect. Those public spaces include transit. People in our region value a transit system where those who depend on transit, those who choose to use transit, those who maintain transit spaces, and those who operate the buses and trains experience a welcoming and safe space.
“After years of working on the administrative citations bill, the legislature finally passed it alongside the Transit Rider Investment Program to support our riders’ safety and security,” said Judd Schetnan, our director of government affairs. Customers will see more official Metro Transit presence on transit with both Metro Transit police officers and transit safety officials on buses, trains, and platforms. The bill also provides a fairer approach to fare noncompliance with lower fines without a need to enter the court system.
“The transit service intervention and code of conduct projects will also strengthen the Met Council’s efforts to assist riders who are facing homelessness and other societal struggles that are playing out on transit,” Schetnan said. Metro Transit will strengthen and build additional partnerships with social service providers to better assist people using transit for shelter.
Prioritizing parks and trails
Investments in regional parks and trails came in many forms this cycle — to keep and maintain what we have, to increase the number of visitors, to preserve and connect high-quality and diverse natural resources, and to create connectivity for trail and commuter users. Many of these state contributions are matched by Met Council funds.
“These essential resources come at a time when there is a growing need for repairs and improvements across the system,” said LisaBeth Barajas, executive director of our Community Development division. “With more people heading outdoors to use our parks and trails, and the frequency and persistence of inland flooding, extended heat waves, and frequent freeze thaw cycles intensifying, our well-loved facilities need some extra attention.”
The regional park system will receive nearly $29 million for operations and maintenance across fiscal years 2024 and 2025, which includes a one-time $6 million boost and an ongoing annual increase of $1.5 million. Regional parks and trails will also receive more than $54 million in Legacy funds in fiscal years 2024 and 2025, more than $16 million in bonding for infrastructure, and $9 million in one-time state funds for modernizing parks and trails. These combined investments represent the largest state investment in the region’s parks and trails in recent history.
Wastewater, clean water, and the environment
Since 2004, our inflow and infiltration program has benefited from local, regional, and state investments to reduce clear water’s impact on the system. Many of those dollars have gone to improve pipes maintained by a city or township, or to the regional sewer interceptor system. This year’s legislators followed suit and included bonding and funding for this program.
Legacy funds also went toward our Water Supply Sustainability Support program, which supports projects that address emerging drinking water supply threats, and the Water Demand Reduction Grant Program, which provides grants for projects that reduce water demand in metro region cities and townships.
The legislature also marked funding for a White Bear Lake Work Group to develop a community-based plan to ensure access to sufficient safe drinking water, allow for municipal growth, and ensure sustainability of surface water and groundwater resources.
Housing in the metropolitan region also received a tax boost with a new ¼-cent sales tax. These funds will come through the Met Council and will be distributed to the state rent assistance account, metro cities, and metro counties to support growing housing needs in the region.
Met Council redistricting and governance
State law requires the legislature to redraw the boundaries of Met Council districts after each decennial federal census so that each district has substantially equal population. The legislature drew new district boundaries, and the Governor will appoint Met Council members to the newly drawn districts in summer 2023.
The transportation bill also enacted a Task Force on Metropolitan Governance to study and make recommendations to the legislature on reform and governance of the Met Council. The task force is required to submit findings and recommendations to the legislature by Feb. 1, 2024.
For more details on Met Council legislative outcomes, watch the Met Council meeting from May 24.