Expand transit to keep state’s economy competitive, coalition says


Transit advocates gathered at the Capitol Wednesday to show broad-based support for expanding investments in the state’s transportation system, from commuter rail and bus lines to bike paths and sidewalks. Such investments deliver a “trifecta” of benefits for state taxpayers, spurring business and job growth, reducing pollution and providing low- and moderate-income workers with greater access to family-sustaining jobs.That’s according to members of Transit for a Stronger Economy, a statewide coalition of 51 groups – including eight labor unions – working to steer more tax dollars toward public transit.

The coalition is backing bills in the House (HF 1044) and Senate (SF 927) that would raise sales taxes in the Metro Area to provide dedicated funding for urban and suburban transit systems, as well as bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. The bills also would redirect existing state revenue to expand transit options in Greater Minnesota.

The goal is a “comprehensive build-out” of public transit in Minnesota, one designed to keep the state’s economy competitive – and its environment clean.

Transit is a “vital component to our cleaner future,” said Katie Gulley, regional program director for the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental groups. Expanding the transit system, she added, will reduce carbon emissions and “ensure people around the state can get where they need to go efficiently and cost effectively.”

Of course, transit investments also create jobs – a fact not lost on the hard-hat-wearing students from Summit Academy OIC, who flanked speakers at the transit press conference. The Minneapolis vocational school provides training for adults from economically depressed communities.

Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, a Minneapolis DFLer whose district includes Summit Academy, co-authored Senate File 297. “In addition to getting people to jobs, this bill is critical to jobs,” he said.

Still, coalition members acknowledged the bills were likely to face stiff opposition.

The 0.75 percent sales-tax hike in the Metro Area, in particular, could raise concerns from business interests. But Dain Smith, president of the Minnesota-based think tank Growth and Justice, said those concerns are not supported by economic research.

“Study after study,” Smith said, shows the benefits of transit investments extend to both workers and businesses. One study by the American Public Transportation Association found every dollar invested in public transportation generates about $4 in economic returns.

“We just hope those business interests understand the need for raising specific revenue for transit,” Smith said.

Unions and labor federations supporting the Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition include the Minnesota AFL-CIO, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, the Communications Workers of America Minnesota State Council, Service Employees International Union Minnesota State Council, Sheet Metal Workers Local 10, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189 and Council 5 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation.