In outstate Minn., transit support isn’t absent

Published 10:24 am Thursday, October 13, 2016

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

One might expect a survey conducted by an advocacy organization called the U.S. Highway 14 Partnership to find support for raising taxes and fees to improve state highways. That was indeed the result when nearly 700 residents of seven south-central Minnesota counties answered the partnership’s survey call between Aug. 24 and Sept. 8.

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Nearly two out of three said they would support a gas tax increase; half also said they favor an increase in vehicle license tab fees, which are also dedicated to highway improvements. Those surveyed are also open to tapping the state’s general fund surplus, though not at the expense of education and human services.

The surprise in the survey came in response to a question about Metro Transit: “Would you support allowing the metro to go forward with light-rail construction if it is paid for solely with metro-area funding, such as a metro-only local sales tax?” The response: 76 percent said yes.

Admittedly, the partnership’s survey is not as reliable a measure of public opinion as a scientific poll would be. But it suggests that resistance to light-rail expansion in the Twin Cities area may not run as deep in Greater Minnesota as Republican representatives from that region have claimed.

Where opposition is found, we suspect, it’s based on a belief that state funds would be tapped for light rail, depriving Greater Minnesota of needed resources. That’s a faulty assumption. The partnership’s question accurately characterizes the issue that hung up a major bonding/transportation bill at the close of the 2016 legislative session. DFLers wanted to give one or more metro counties a chance to tax themselves to build the Southwest light-rail line. The GOP-controlled House refused.

“We are one state and should act like it,” one survey respondent told the partnership. That enlightened attitude has been in short supply at the State Capitol in recent years, as politicians have fueled regional resentments and rivalries to justify aiding their own area at another’s expense.

Metro-bashing campaigns are being waged again this season in Greater Minnesota, we’re told. We take the Highway 14 Partnership’s light-rail results as a heartening sign that this year, divide-and-conquer politics might not be effective.