The session’s not quite over, but probably all the bills that will pass this year at the MN Legislature have been introduced. I thought streets.mn readers might be interested in those bills that affect the state’s transit landscape, so here is a bowdlerized version of a summary from my personal blog. Warning: I am not a lawyer, and only a dabbler in the dark art of local politics, so feel free to distrust my interpretations and predictions. I’ve provided links to the official pages for each bill so you can make up your own mind. Also please note that this list is House-focused; this is due to the House’s pages being a bit better than the Senate’s in user-friendliness.
HF2685 Metro Transit service fare increases required As the title indicates, this bill would have raised Metro Transit fares by a quarter in an attempt to punish transit riders for high gas prices (a motivation expressed by Rep. Bruce Vogel of Willmar), but in a twist of the knife has been appropriated as a vehicle for an omnibus transportation finance (?) bill (but not the omnibus transportation policy bill, which you’ll see is below). The bill contains some other heinous provisions that I’ll describe below, but does not as of writing contain the transit-slashing vindictive fare increase.
HF2852 Distance-based transit fare surcharge pilot program established for replacement service transit providers It’s not necessarily a bad idea to use a distanced-based or “zone” fare system, but the language in this bill only allows an increase in fare for distance, which could be a problem for short-distance express service. This bill has been incorporated into the omnibus transportation bill, so it has a pretty good chance of passing.
HF2473 Transportation public-private partnership pilot program and related regulations established The Legislature is graciously allowing MnDot to propose a public-private partnership with a selected private company, but not to accept a public-private partnership that a private company proposes out of the blue. The bill actually suggests a project for the pilot program, the Mississippi River crossing that would connect I-94 to US-10 near Clearwater, but I mention it here because the bill ignores a potential application to transit, although it doesn’t expressly forbid it.
HF2387 Greater Minnesota transit funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated There’s usually some fairly general bonding money for Greater Minnesota transit in the bonding bill; this bill would have provided $10m, but that got shrunk to $2.5m in the final House version. The Senate seems to have upped it to $4m, and I’d guess it will end up around there.
HF2321 Metropolitan transit service opt-outs authorized DFLer Bev Scalze makes this session’s transit-wacking bipartisan with her bill to reopen opt-outs for suburban municipalities. She got sympathy from the committee for her dissatisfaction with her community’s transit service, and this bill has been incorporated into the omnibus transportation bill listed above as HF2685. I would like to take this opportunity to conjecture that Rep. Scalze has never taken the bus, or else she perhaps would have not introduced this bill that is guaranteed to make Twin Cities transit more confusing.
HF2271 Minneapolis to Duluth high speed passenger rail funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated Alas, ’twas not to be funded, but just about every DFLer with a district along the proposed route signed as an author.
HF2155 Central corridor light rail line property valuation increases limited Here’s a fun one – legislatively limiting the increase in property values caused by Central LRT. Of course, they’re only limiting the increase in taxable value, not sale value. No one wants any pain with their pleasure, I guess. The Senate version actually got referred to the committee on Taxes, but the House version is just sitting there.
HF1284 Omnibus Transportation Policy Bus use of shoulders is expanded by this bill, both in terms of where and how fast. On the where side, authority will be given to counties and cities to allow buses to use shoulder on roads that they own. On the how fast side, MnDot will be able to raise the speed limit for buses on shoulders in specific locations after conducting a study, which would have prevented the greenwashing reasoning for restriping a bus shoulder as a general traffic lane and arguing that it will improve bus speed.
HF1943 Metropolitan Council transit funding provisions modified and HF2696 Metropolitan Council; formula changed for assistance to cities and towns with replacement transit service Mike Beard worked tenaciously this year to redistribute funds from Metro Transit to suburban opt-outs; one of his efforts took the form of HF1943, which attempts to restore cuts that the Met Council made to opt-out funding as a method of dealing with their own budget cuts. In the March 7th meeting, Met Council Gov’t Affairs Director Judd Schetnan responded by pointing out that most of the opt-outs had reserves equaling 150% of their annual budgets, implying that they could whether these cuts relatively easily. HF1943 doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, perhaps because Beard found a better way to redistribute money to the suburbs in HF2696. This bill nearly doubles the amount of MVST money that goes to opt-outs, and has been included in HF2685, which looks likely to pass.
This being a bonding year, there were also many transit projects that got their own capital funding bills, including NLX, Bottineau, Southwest, a park-and-ride in Maple Grove, a transit center in Duluth (rehab of the gorgeous Depot maybe?), the Lake Street transit station, and many more. None were included in the bonding bills, which only nodded to transit in the House’s version, which included $1m for upgrades to track between St Paul and Hopkins, potentially for use on Red Rock commuter rail or “HSR” to Chicago. The final bonding bills may change in the conference committee, though, so now’s the time to contact your legislator and ask they listen to the extraordinary popular support for the Southwest Transitway.
Finally, the bill that would most affect transit hasn’t exactly been introduced yet, though it has received a hearing. Championed by Mike Beard, this bill would transfer transportation planning functions to an independent board of elected officials appointed by metro area counties, and it would also fund transit through property taxes(again) instead of the general fund. There’s not enough time left in this session for this bill to make it through the legislative sausage grinder, but Mike Beard seems to think he’ll be in the position to shepherd it through next year. I guess we’ll find out in November…