MPR News reporter Dan Olson writes:
Minnesota road, bridge and transit advocates are breathing a sigh of relief. The transportation bill agreed to as part of the state budget agreement doesn't cut transit funding as deeply as originally proposed. And it contains some additional money for road maintenance.
The statement from the Metropolitan Council, the parent agency of Metro Transit which operates the buses and rail system, says the agreement means there won't be any fare increases or service reductions.
Bill Neuendorf, director of policy and advocacy for Transit for Livable Communities, says the bill's 40 percent cut in state general fund revenue for the next two years is much less drastic than originally proposed.
Still, the budget agreement does cut transit funding by $51.8 million.
The Metropolitan Council says the agency will deal with the cuts by shifting some local sales tax revenue intended mainly for transit development to pay for operating the trains and buses. They'll also use some federal and regional funds and continue to draw on reserves to help pay operating costs.
The Met Council says it will cut funds to suburbs who operate their own public bus service independent of Metro Transit trains and buses.
UPDATE: Here's the Met Council's read on the bill:
-- Transit service would be maintained at current levels, without a fare increase.
-- The bill would appropriate $78 million from the state general fund to transit operations in the 2012-13 biennium, a reduction of $51.8 million (or 40 percent), which is much improved from the reduction of $109 million in the earlier Transportation Finance bill.
-- The $51.8 million reduction would be addressed with:
o New funding to the Council for transit operations from the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) of $15.3 million
o Reduction in funding to Suburban Transit Providers of $7.2 million.
o Metro Transit administrative reductions , which would not result in job losses; converting federal and regional capital funds to operating funds; and dropping reserves to a minimum level--to make up the remaining $29.3 million.
-- The bill would make it possible to avoid:
o Fare increase
o Service cuts, other than routine reductions due to low ridership/route performance.
A petition from two key Minnesota GOP lawmakers today to order work to resume on many of the state's shuttered road projects was rejected by the judge appointed to rule on essential government services.
Minnesota House transportation committee chairman Mike Beard and Senate transportation committee chairman Joe Gimse told Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin that spending state money during the shutdown for upkeep and rebuilding of roads fits within her order of keeping critical core functions operating during a government shutdown.
"They are subject to erosion, to wear and tear and to damage as they stand at this moment, particularly vulnerable because the projects are not completed and the drainage and weather protection is not intact," Gimse said, "To allow that to continue impinges on the public safety and that's the argument we'd make."
Gearin told the lawmakers her order allows for emergency repair and inspection of roads and bridges during the shutdown. She said it is not the role of the court to be the transportation commissioner. Gearin took the request under advisement but said it is the responsibility of the Legislature and the governor to agree on a budget that will allow government spending to resume.
"The contract can't be fulfilled by the government because of the failure to reach a resolution on the budget issue because they haven't funded the other costs of this project and the contract can't go forward without that happening," Gearin said.
From MPR's Dan Olson:
Two key Minnesota GOP lawmakers today asked Judge Kathleen Gearin to order work to resume on many of the state's shuttered road projects.
Minnesota House transportation committee chairman Mike Beard and Senate transportation committee chairman Joe Gimse told the judge that spending state money during the shutdown for upkeep and rebuilding of roads fits within her order of keeping critical core functions operating during a government shutdown.
"They are subject to erosion, to wear and tear and to damage as they stand at this moment, particularly vulnerable because the projects are not completed and the drainage and weather protection is not intact. To allow that to continue impinges on the public safety and that's the argument we'd make."
Judge Gearin told the lawmakers her order allows for emergency repair and inspection of roads and bridges during the shutdown. She said it is not the role of the court to be the transportation commissioner. Gearin took the request under advisement but said it's the Legislature and the governor's job to agree on a budget that will allow government spending to resume.
Big lineup of talkers on the #mnshutdown on MPR News today. Here's a preview of the next few hours (subject to change):
-At 7:20 on Morning Edition, we expect to hear from a top GOP leader, either Amy Koch or Kurt Zellers
-At 7:30 we'll hear from the director of the Minnesota Zoo
-MPR News political editor Mike Mulcahy at 7:40, followed by another reporter, either Catherine Richert or Brandt Williams
-At 8:00 we will be recording an interview with a state employee laid off from her job in the Revenue Department for airing later during the hour
-Also during the 8:00 hour we expect a preview of the special master hearings from reporter Laura Yuen, and we'll hear about effects of the shutdown from reporter Dan Olson
-On Midmorning starting at 9, we'll hear from reporters Tim Pugmire, Catherine Richert, Hennepin County board commissioner Mike Opat, Duluth Mayor Don Ness, St, Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk and former state representative Marty Seifert.
-Then on Midday, starting at 11: former Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock, reporters Mulachy, Yuen and Olson, and House Minority Leader Thissen. Midday has also invited Governor Dayton and GOP legislative leaders to appear on the show.
A listener called the newsroom early this morning to report "closed" signs outside of a rest area along Interstate 90 in southern Minnesota.
The shutdown isn't supposed to start until tomorrow, so I called MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht to find out what was going on.
He says shutting down the dozens of rest areas in the state is "a process," so a few in greater Minnesota were closed yesterday and even more are being closed today.
"The way we do that is we'll close down the entrance and then we need to wait for a period of time until a rest area gets cleared out, because people do use those rest areas to rest, and then we'll barricade the exits as well," Gutknecht said.
All rest areas will be closed by this evening.
Gutknecht says construction sites around the state will also "buttoned up" today because of the possible shutdown. And for Twin Cities commuters, congestion could be an issue tomorrow because ramp meters won't be working. Also, there won't be any way for people to check traffic conditions before leaving home because MnDOT traffic cameras will be off.
Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel says the Bren Road/Highway 169 project in Minnetonka can't continue during a shutdown, despite the city's argument that it is fully managing and inspecting the project.
Minnetonka City Manager John Gunyou had asked MnDOT to allow the project to continue, saying all state money going into the project had already been paid and that the city had taken full responsibility for the project.
Gunyou said delaying the project could cost taxpayers up to $3 million.
But in a letter, Sorel cited the signed agreement between MnDOT and the city, saying the state has the authority to stop a construction project within the state's right-of-way "at any time, with or without cause."
He said MnDOT won't be able to conduct oversight or authorize changes to the project. The state also won't be able to assure the federal government that construction activities on part of the National Highway System comply with federal requirements.
"MnDOT still has substantial authority and responsibility related to the construction of this project that it will be unable to exercise in the event of a shutdown," Sorel wrote.
Gunyou said in a written statement that the city is disappointed with the decision.
"We continue to believe there are no real financial, engineering or administrative reasons why this important project should not proceed, with or without a state shutdown," Gunyou said.
"We remain hopeful that the governor and legislature will reach an agreement to avert a shutdown, and will continue to evaluate our options on a day-by-day basis, with our primary focus on how best to minimize any unnecessary additional expense to our taxpayers," he said.
The Star Tribune reports that a state shutdown July 1 could crimp the use of MnPASS Express Lanes in the Twin Cities.
The state will have to stop collecting those quarters and sometimes dollars from solo motorists who use the pay-to-drive carpool lanes in the metro area starting Thursday should the state budget impasse lead to a government shutdown, transportation officials said Tuesday.
E-mails were sent to the thousands of motorists whose transponders allow them to pay to drive solo in the high-occupancy lanes of Interstate 394 between downtown Minneapolis and the west metro, and between downtown Minneapolis and the south metro.
In the event of shutdown, the lanes will only be available from 6-10 a.m. and from 2-7 p.m. to vehicles with more than one person, motorcyclists and buses, said Christine Krueger, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Here's a link to the story.
If you're affected by this, please post below and tell us or use our handy shutdown form.
From MPR News reporter Dan Olson:
Metro Transit officials on Monday predicted what they call unprecedented cuts to Twin Cities bus service if an eventual state budget agreement includes a $109 million budget cut over two years.
The Republican transportation bill vetoed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton included a $109 million proposed cut.
Transit officials described the extent of the possible bus route cuts and fare increases to a Metropolitan Council committee on Monday.
Transit officials are predicting a 25 percent reduction in hours of transit service across the system. More than 200 peak hour bus routes would be cut, and more than 500 employees would lose their jobs.
Most suburban local and many crosstown routes would be eliminated. A Metro Transit spokesman said trips would take longer and more people would end up standing.
The overall loss of rides could approach ten million a year. Officials say most of Metro Transit's direct bus service to the University of Minnesota, a relatively high ridership service, would be eliminated.
If state government shuts down July 1, transit officials have said they can continue operations at current levels using financial reserves for a few weeks.
Metro Transit is one of the country's largest transit systems. The agency supplies 90 percent of the 78 million bus trips taken annually in the Twin Cities. Ridership has been rising.
The agency that runs Twin Cities public buses and trains says it can run the system for a few weeks on reserve cash if state government shuts down July 1.
But the Metropolitan Council is already mulling fare hikes and route cuts should an eventual budget deal reduce it funds. MPR News reporter Dan Olson writes that the council has set August public hearing dates to plan for service reductions and fare increases
Here's his story:
Met Council chair Sue Haigh says the agency would draw on reserves to maintain service at current levels for a few weeks.
"In the absence of a state budget, we're actually beginning the required and lengthy process of holding public hearings to implement the fare increase and a service adjustment reduction in the event that there is a $110 million reduction from the state general fund to Metro Transit," said Haigh.
Haigh is referring to the cuts in the Republican budget proposal.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the GOP transportation bill because of the transit funding cuts, saying the cuts would result in a "service reduction of 241 buses, 30 percent of the service on the street, resulting in the loss of 20 million rides, 23 percent of annual ridership."
Met Council officials say they also plan to use reserves for at least a few weeks during a shutdown to keep Hiawatha light rail, Northstar commuter rail, Metro Mobility and regional dial-a-ride services running.
Buses and rail account for a very small share of daily trips in the heavily car dependent Twin Cities.
However, there are pockets of intense transit use.
In downtown Minneapolis, 40 percent of the people arriving as workers or visitors use bus or rail.
Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce President Todd Klingel wants the state's elected leaders to hold the line on and even reduce state spending.
However, he says transit fare increases and route reductions would be counterproductive, sending more bus and train riders back into their cars and on to the region's roads.
"Those people whether they're going to work or school are going to have to find other ways to get there if they choose to go and that means more cars on the roads. It's not like, 'oh it's not going to affect me,' it's going to affect everyone," said Klingel. "Our concern as a chamber is it affects our ability to move goods and services across the marketplace in the course of any day."
Another transit question posed by a state government shutdown is how it might affect construction of the Central Corridor light rail line, the state's largest public works project.
Nineteen Minnesota Department of Transportation workers are part of the building of the Central Corridor light rail line.
Met Council chair Sue Haigh says it's not clear how their potential layoff or furlough during a shutdown would affect the project.
"MnDOT staff and employees are part of the regulatory oversight of the project and we believe that the project can continue on a temporary basis without them but that's what we're exploring right now," said Haigh.
Haigh says she also doesn't know how a shutdown would affect the Met Council's road building and maintenance agenda.
The Metropolitan Council is not a state agency.
It operates for the most part off user fees, local levies and federal revenue.
However, the regional planning body's transportation agenda includes the long awaited rebuild of the 169-494 interchange in the southwest Twin Cities, where state transportation workers are in key oversight roles.
Aside from transit and transportation, a state government shutdown would apparently not affect most other Metropolitan Council services including one of its biggest - sewage treatment.
Waste water treatment is funded by user fees and would continue uninterrupted.
From MPR's politics team:
GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann issued a news release today saying that a potential state government shutdown shows the need for a new bridge in Stillwater. State officials announced last week that the lift bridge will not be operating if state government shuts down on July 1.
As many as 200 Minnesota road projects could be mothballed in a state government shutdown, Republican lawmakers said today.
MPR News reporter Tim Nelson writes:
Republican Sen. Joe Gimse of Willmar says the budget impasse at the Capitol has contractors getting ready to leave the work they're already doing on Minnesota roads. He says the Department of Transportation is saying they can't use state right of way during the shutdown.
"I know what they're telling the contractors, and they're shutting them off of all of the projects. Take, for example, the Highway 14 project by Owatonna. They're telling them that by Monday morning, there can't be anybody on that project, either on the road right of way or anywhere else. They have to button that up."
Gimse said he feels that Gov. Mark Dayton's administration is forcing work to stop in an effort to strengthen his hand in budget negotiations. Democrats say passing a Republican budget plan could imperil funding for transit and other transportation priorities
Read all of Nelson's report with documents at MPR's Capitol View blog.