Officials prep for shutdown-related transit disruptionsby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Twin Cities transit officials say they can keep the buses and trains running on reserve funds for a few weeks if there's a state government shutdown, but they've already scheduled public hearings to plan for fare increases and route reductions if an eventual budget agreement cuts their funds.
The Metropolitan Council's Metro Transit division gets about one-fifth of its operating budget from the state. But if there's no budget agreement, and state government shuts down a week from now, Met Council officials assume the flow of money will stop.
The Met Council maintains operating reserve balances at an amount that does not fall below one-twelfth of the annual operating budget or about $32 million. The value of state revenue cash flow reductions during a shutdown is approximately $21 million per month, and about a quarter of that is state general fund appropriations.
The rest is constitutionally dedicated revenue for transit from the collection of the sales tax on motor vehicles. What the Council doesn't know is how or if in a shutdown the state revenue would keep flowing.
Met Council chair Sue Haigh said the agency would draw those reserves to maintain service at current levels for a few weeks. But she said they've set August public hearing dates to plan for service reductions and fare increases.
"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," Haigh said.
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, Klingel said 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," Klingel said. "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 said 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," she said. Haigh said 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.
- All Things Considered, 06/24/2011, 5:50 p.m.