We were right, but I’m not happy about it. In an April Hindsight blog, John Van Hacke predicted that conservative conference committees would result in conservative policy.
Well, as conference committees confer on the proposed budget bills from each chamber, this prediction is proving to be spot on. The latest maddening example is the transportation budget bill. The cuts to transit proposed by the House totaled nearly $130 million, while the cuts proposed by the Senate sat much lower at $36 million. Using simple math, the logical compromise between the two would be a very harmful $83 million in cuts. The actual result? $109 million in cuts to transit.
Ever since Representative Mike Beard (R-Shakopee) championed his transportation bill containing nearly $130 million in cuts to transit, opposition has been voiced from across the Twin Cities and the state. His response was a patronizing assurance that the cuts wouldn’t be nearly that bad in the final bill. Luckily, opponents of the cuts took them very seriously and protested the bill.
The variety of voices rallying against this bill were well represented at a press conference hosted by Transit for Livable Communities in April, which we attended. Transit riders, transit workers, the Minneapolis and St. Paul Chambers of Commerce, and local politicians all spoke against these cuts at the conference. The business community defended transit for its economic benefits, and a Star Tribune editorial took the pro-business angle with the help of prominent business leaders. They argued that transit moves employees, reduces congestion, and makes the state more economically competitive.
The transportation community defended transit for its mobility benefits, diversity of transportation choices, and congestion reduction. Transit for Livable Communities hosted more rallies, conferences, and a massive signing of postcards supporting transit. One of the responses to all of this criticism came from Rep. Beard, who expressed discouragement at so many people ‘relying on the government’ for their mobility. In fact, Beard, his constituents, and all Minnesotans rely on government to get them around no matter the mode, including cars—roads are not free, self-sustaining, or in any other way free of public funding.
Yet in spite of it all, conservative legislators forged boldly onward in proposing a devastating $109 million cut to transit, including $8 million in outstate transit. This brings us uncomfortably closer to Metropolitan Council Chair Sue Haigh’s prediction of a fare increase, the loss of 550 transit jobs, the loss of weekend transit service, and the potential loss of almost half of regular bus service. This marks a stark contrast to investing in transportation, which we should be doing.
A strong transit system is vital to an economically competitive metropolitan region, which is vital to a strong Minnesota. The latest example of a cuts-only approach shows that conservative legislators value their ‘no new taxes no matter what’ pledge over the strength and vibrancy of our great state.
Photo credit: Dawn Easterday, creative commons