But in Minnesota, GOP blocked a referendum for Southwest LRT.
Cities nationwide have crafted and acted on ambitious blueprints for light-rail and other forms of mass transit, but unlike the Twin Cities, many of them have asked their voters whether they want higher taxes to help pay for it.
Ballot initiatives “give local officials the ability to turn a tricky political decision over to the voters,” said Jason Jordan, executive director of the Center for Transportation Excellence, a Washington, D.C., group that tracks transit spending. Since 2000, transportation initiatives have been on the ballot in 41 states, with an average of 71 percent passing.
A referendum of this sort has not been considered in Minnesota because the Legislature would have to authorize it. And, since efforts to pass a half-cent metro sales tax for transportation were thwarted by light-rail-averse Republicans last spring, that seems unlikely.
The final piece of local funding for the $1.79 billion Southwest light-rail line, totaling $135 million, is now in doubt. The fate of close to $900 million in federal matching funds for the controversial project is murky as well.
Partisan politics over mass transit haven’t necessarily played out nationally the way they have in Minnesota, according to Jordan. “We have found no partisan connection with these [transit] measures at all,” he said. “Voters really have a chance to evaluate whether they believe there’s value in a project or not.”