The CGMC is one of 100+ members of Move MN — the campaign to pass a statewide transportation investment. Despite broad and diverse support from local governments to health advocates, from contractors to transit groups, from unions to environmentalists, the Governor and House leadership made it clear that they were not inclined to raise revenues for transportation in an election year. Instead, they announced that addressing the state’s transportation funding shortfall needed to be a top priority for the 2015 Legislative Session.
To demonstrate some recognition of the state’s infrastructure needs, lawmakers made road and bridge funding an emphasis in the bonding and cash capital investment package. Between the two bills, a combined $33 million was provided for the Local Bridge Replacement Program and $54.3 million for the Local Road Improvement Program. However, three large metro-area projects were designated to be funded out of these appropriations, so it remains to be seen how much will be available to the rest of the state. The bonding package also funded the Safe Routes to School program ($1 million), the Port Development Assistance program ($2 million), rail crossing improvements ($2 million), and several Greater Minnesota transit buildings and airports. In addition, $15 million was provided for Metro Transit development.
The supplemental budget also included transportation investments. Though the CGMC was pushing for a robust investment in the Corridors of Commerce program from the state’s General Fund surplus, much of those funds were directed toward tax cuts and building up the budget reserve, leaving little available for competing programs. Both the House and Senate Transportation Committees agreed that Corridors of Commerce was a priority and included program funding in their budget recommendations. However, those committees’ budget targets were later significantly reduced. Responding to advocacy from Greater Minnesota officials and businesses, the committee chairs worked to dedicate a total of $31.5 million in Trunk Highway Fund dollars (gas tax, MVST and tab fee revenues) to Corridors of Commerce over the next two years. In FY 14, $6.5 million in program funding will be provided for Greater Minnesota Corridors of Commerce projects and $25 million in program funding was appropriated in FY 15.
The small amount of General Fund dollars for transportation did include some Greater MN priorities: $2.285 million for rail crossing improvements and additional rail safety inspectors related to the transport of oil, $250,000 for Safe Routes to School, and $6.5 million for Greater Minnesota transit. The funding for Greater Minnesota transit is largely to make up for the removal of the motor vehicle lease tax funding cap that was placed on suburban counties in 2013. When revenues came in much higher than projected, counties successfully petitioned the Legislature to reinstate the 50/50 revenue split. This will result in Greater Minnesota transit receiving almost $13 million less of an increase than they were expecting, which is why $6.5 million was provided for both transit and Corridors of Commerce.
Transportation will very likely be a major point of discussion in the 2015 Session, though the strategies and priorities for addressing the funding shortfall will vary depending on which party ends up in control of the Minnesota House and Governor’s office.