Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ripoff in Transit

Fresh on the heals of the scam perpetrated on Hennipen County taxpayers that is the Twins stadium deal, legislators have wasted no time manufacturing another.

Sales Tax dollars will not be spent on roads or buses, and maybe not even trains, at least not any time soon. In fact, the dollars may very well be swept into the hole that the Met Council has dug for itself or otherwise disappear altogether.

From The Taxpayers League of Minnesota Update:

State and county officials have been saying a lot of different things about what a sales tax increase will mean for Metro county residents; whether it means new roads, better transit or property tax relief, it seems a ¼ cent tax increase is the transportation panacea we’ve all been waiting for.

But the tax increase that passed this week in Anoka and Ramsey counties (and will pass next week in one, two or three others...isn’t quite all it’s been advertised to be.

In fact, it’s much less:Among the feats of strength wrongly associated with the tax increase “there is the fact that none of the ¼ cent sales tax increase will go for roads.

That’s right; contrary to what most people believe is the case, not one dime of the increased sales tax dollars will be spent on roads.“Wait, it gets worse.

None of the tax increase will be spent on buses either. So, you ask, if you can’t spend the money on roads or buses…what are they planning to spend the money on?

The answer is…only new transit projects.“But before these ‘County Transit Bandits’ (CTBs) could divide up their ill gotten loot, another surprise came to light.

The Metropolitan Council, which operates the bus system and the 11 mile light rail transit line, wants some of the new tax revenue to help erase their $18 million budget deficit.

This operating loss is on top of the millions of dollars of new money Metro Transit received from the constitutional dedication of the motor vehicle sales tax.”Minnesota Free Market Institute Senior Policy Fellow Craig Westover nicely summarizes the food fight taking place twixt the Met Council and the CTBs in his column today in the Pioneer Press. Take a look and then try and tell me the CTBs didn’t just pull a fast one on the State Legislature.

See Fighting over the spoils By Craig Westover for the entire article, but here are some excerpts:

Pawlenty's proposed $30 million reduction in state General Fund support of regional transit operations makes the Met Council's self-inflicted problem worse, but the response of transit supporters to the shortfall once again highlights their unsustainable economic model of massive public transit expansion.

Of course, the dirty little secret is that no one really expects light rail to actually fulfill its promises, especially those supporting it. DeFiebre laments on: "So now the talk is of fare increases and service cuts, the familiar fallback that hits hardest those least able to pay. Metro Transit riders are already paying some of the nation's highest fares, financing 30 percent of bus operations and a remarkable 38 percent of the cost of running the Hiawatha light rail line."

Many have touted the existing light rail a success due to higher than expected ridership but the truth is it is a financial disaster and probably unsustainable in the long run.

Are those LRT riders from Bloomington going to work in downtown really those "least able to pay?" Those people cramming the train on Vikings game days or projected to flock to the new Twins Stadium, $200 tickets ($65 along the outfield baselines) in hand? What is "remarkable" is that anyone could term a 62 percent operating deficit acceptable, much less a "success" — an operating deficit that under the new scheme, according to Lieder, will no longer come out of general funds; counties had better look to property taxes.

As quoted by deFiebre, Dave Van Hattum of Transit for Livable Communities carries transit support duplicity to another level. "More people than ever depend on the bus system to get around," he said. "In a struggling economy, bus service should be the last thing we cut since it directly impacts many people's abilities to reach their jobs."

OK. Then why, independent of the governor's budget proposal, are we planning to cut bus service on University Avenue? We are because it was necessary to cook the books in favor of light rail to obtain federal funding for the Central Corridor project. So what if people have to walk farther to catch a train, which will run less frequently than the current bus service. How does that not affect people's ability to reach their jobs?"

Of course it does, but current transit planning is not being done for the benefit of the public. The transportation policy being railroaded through the Legislature is about convenience for the well-connected and a legacy for the legislative elite for which everyone else pays. It's cool.

It's not cool. It's irresponsible at best, criminal at worst. Our taxes are going up and our dollars are being wasted on pet projects with high costs and limited benefit.

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