Civic beat

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March 14, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
Metro Transit budget has uncertain future

Metropolitan Council officials say they’re trying to avoid raising bus fares while they wrangle with an uncertain transportation budget.

Gov. Mark Dayton, in his 2012 and 2013 budget, is proposing an $11 million cut to the Met Council’s transit fund. That would equal 9 percent of the Met Council’s state funding for its various transportation services, including Metro Transit.

“We’ve tried in the past to avoid fare increases or service cuts, and we will do that again,” said Met Council’s Public Affairs Director Steven Dornfeld. “But exactly what we will do depends on what happens in this legislative session.”

The Republicans in the Legislature have yet to release their own budget. Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B) said the House Transportation Committee he sits on would have to pass a transportation funding bill by March 25.

Hornstein said the GOP-controlled committee’s budget could mean deeper transit cuts, but he said he hoped the Met Council would do all it could to avoid fare increases.  

“I don’t think a fare increase is helpful at this point,” he said. “Fare increases tend to drop ridership. They tend to be extremely regressive in terms of the kinds of people that are affected. I think they can disproportionately hurt low-income people, seniors and the disabled.”

Dornfeld said the Met Council will look to fill the budget by tapping reserve funds, using Livable Communities Program funds and making administrative cuts.

“We have some options short-term to try to avoid any drastic moves to balance the budget,” he said. “But longer-term there is a real challenge.”

The Met Council last raised bus fares in 2008, by 25 cents for regular routes and by 50 cents for Metro Mobility, a service for disabled residents. Dornfeld said about 28 percent of Met Council’s revenue comes from fares.

Metro Transit ridership was up 2.3 percent in 2010 over 2009. More than 78 million customers boarded the system’s buses and trains.

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Mayor’s annual address focuses on creating Minneapolis jobs

Mayor R.T. Rybak on March 8 gave his annual State of the City address, focusing the speech on job creation and economic growth, just as he has done the past several years.

“The more people we get here, the lower our tax burden, and more important, it’s going to be the type of city we want to live in,” Rybak said.

The third-term mayor said that in some situations, city government needs to play a role in economic growth, and he outlined workforce training, improving transit and lending a hand to small businesses as three key ways for the city to help create jobs.

His speech, delivered to a packed house at the Hoversten Chapel of Augsburg College, touted some of the city’s burgeoning businesses by displaying their products on stage.

City Council members applauded the mayor for his positive message and efforts to help grow the city’s economy.

“His message was sort of methodical — laying the groundwork policy-wise and building partnerships, so that when the economy does kick in, we’re prepared to take advantage of that,” said City Council member Kevin Reich (1st Ward) of Northeast.

Rybak pinpointed the West Bank; Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue; the area around the Target Field and the International Market Square; and the Hiawatha Light Rail areas as four corridors for the city to spend its limited economic development budget.

“We can’t just stand back and hope that growth happens in these areas,” he said. “We’re going to have to take every arm of every part of city government, and focus it especially on those transit corridors, and make sure that this is where we grow.”

Rybak’s address was made just a couple hours after Forbes Magazine posted results of recruiting firm Ajilon Professional Staffing’s study showing the Twin Cities as the best market in the United States for landing a job. It mentioned that the city of Minneapolis has the lowest unemployment rate of any major U.S. city (6.5 percent), a diversity of industries, low crime and poverty and a relatively low cost of living.

Rybak touted some of the city’s successes, such as giving out its 1,000th loan to small businesses, streamlining city permitting and lowering violent crime to the lowest rate in 27 years.