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Business groups differ on transportation funding

Business groups around the state are advocating different approaches to transportation funding as lawmakers gear up to debate a comprehensive transportation bill in the legislative session that begins next week.

In February, the Minneapolis Downtown Council announced its support for additional tax revenue to pay for future transit and transportation investments in the state.

Days earlier, the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce supported making transit investments from existing tax revenues and the state’s general fund.

The two business groups are representative of the split around the state as lawmakers and businesses consider their options before the legislative session, which begins March 8.

Two transportation bills, which will be picked up in the coming session, also differ over funding — a disagreement that left Minnesota without a comprehensive transportation bill last year.

The DFL-led Senate aims to fund transportation through new tax revenues, including a metro-area sales tax increase. Meanwhile, a bill coming out of the Republican-led House contends money is already available for transportation within existing revenue sources, but needs to be reallocated.

The resolution passed last month by the Downtown Council’s Executive Board points to planned projects in the metro area as catalysts for growth in the state that would be funded by increased tax revenues.

Among them is the planned Southwest light rail transit line, which could be in jeopardy or delayed if the state’s remaining $135 million contribution isn’t committed by this summer.

Southwest is a $1.79 billion project set to open in 2020. The route would extend the Green Line 14.5 miles between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie with stops in St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka.

“Today’s modern city needs to make it easy for workers and residents to get around town through a variety of reliable transit options,” Steve Cramer, president and chief executive officer of the Downtown Council, said in a press release. “It is what employees look for in choosing a city, and it is part of what will keep Minneapolis competitive with peer cities.”

For the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce, transportation is a priority, but the organization wants existing tax allocations to reflect its importance.

“We believe through efficiencies and current funding mechanisms that transportation is so important that some of those dollars should be reallocated to transportation,” Vicki Stute, president of the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce said in an interview this month.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which was integral in passing the state’s last transportation bill nearly a decade ago, has backed a plan to use existing taxes to fund transportation.

Regionally, Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Metropolitan Council chair, Adam Duininck, have supported a metro-area sales tax increase.

Transit planners are looking to the state in coming years to help fund millions of dollars for planned light rail and BRT lines around the metro.

State leaders say this is the year for a transportation bill, despite largely holding the same positions they did last year as they head into the 2016 session.

About Janice Bitters

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