Compromise includes funding for transit, regional parks, and water supply
Governor Tim Walz this week signed several budget bills for the next two years, after a successful conclusion to his first legislative session as Governor. The Governor reached a bipartisan agreement with House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, which set the stage to wrap up the bills without an extended special session.
“This budget will improve the lives of Minnesotans in every corner of the state,” said Governor Walz. “We set out to make investments in education, health care, and community prosperity and that’s exactly what we achieved. Minnesota is showing the rest of the nation that Republicans and Democrats can still find compromise and work together to get things done.”
The budget bills include funding for many Metropolitan Council programs, including transit, regional parks, and water supply. In addition to providing for the state-funded portions of the Council’s budget, a handful of important changes were also approved.
Transit: Metro Mobility gets a separate appropriation
The state budget will now provide a separate appropriation for Metro Mobility, alleviating pressure on the budget for the regular bus system. Metro Mobility also received a one-time funding increase for the next two-year budget cycle to meet increased demand.
The new law expands the Metro Mobility service area into Lakeville. In addition, the new law allows the Council and the state Department of Human Services to share data to access federal funds for eligible Metro Mobility rides.
The new law allows the Council to issue Regional Transit Capital bonds in 2019 and 2020 – these bonds are used to replace buses and trains in the regional fleet – including Metro Transit, suburban transit providers, Metro Mobility, and Transit Link services.
“I’m pleased we were able to prioritize people with disabilities, by fully funding Metro Mobility and separating it from the regional transit budget,” said Metropolitan Council Nora Slawik. “Demand for Metro Mobility service continues to grow, and this separate line item will assure Metro Mobility doesn’t compete with funding for regular route transit. Community prosperity relies on fully funding Metro Mobility and our bus system.”
Metro-wide sales tax for transit not part of the final package
The final transportation package did not include the Governor’s proposed metro-wide sales tax for transit investment. While there was no new funding included for transit, funding levels will allow service to remain at current levels. The Governor had also recommended $20 million in bonding for the METRO D Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT); however, legislators did not pass a bonding bill.
“We’re disappointed to have not received the remaining funding for this important regional investment,” said Chair Slawik. “The METRO D Line will be an upgrade to our region’s single busiest bus route from Brooklyn Center to Bloomington. We’ll be working with our partners to determine the next steps for the project to continue moving it forward.
“We also know that there is growing, bipartisan agreement on the need to invest new funding in our regional transit system. Businesses, labor, and residents alike are pointing to transit as a way to keep our region economically competitive and thriving; we look forward to continuing to make the case for more investment, so we can connect people with jobs, school, and opportunity.”
Regional parks and water supply get appropriations
Beyond transit, parks agencies will have access to additional funding to support the regional parks system. The Environment & Natural Resources bill provided a funding increase for operations and maintenance. The Council will also distribute the regional parks’ share of the Parks & Trails Legacy Fund to the implementing agencies to improve and expand regional parks, providing its own matching grants as well.
New Clean Water Legacy Funds will be dedicated the Council’s water supply sustainability program, which supports local projects that address emerging threats to drinking water supply. The law appropriates Clean Water funds to support grants for local governments to reduce demands on water supply. The final budget bills did not include inflow and infiltration (I/I) mitigation grants, which the Council has supported as a way to keep I/I from private property out of the regional wastewater system.
“Overall, I’m proud of the progress we made together this year,” continued Chair Slawik. “A divided government requires compromise, and I know together, we accomplished a lot of good for Minnesota families. We look forward to continued partnership with legislative leaders at the State Capitol.”