Dayton Puts Taxpayers On-The-Hook For Southwest Light Rail

Minneapolis, MN – On Wednesday, Hennepin County officials gave the green light to raise property taxes in order to fund the Southwest light rail line (SWLRT) with an additional $20.5 million. Officials with the Metropolitan Council, Hennepin County and other Twin Cities counties obligated local taxpayers to cover the $144.5M funding gap for the project. 

The move came after Governor Dayton announced he would not call a special session due to a lack of compromise over funding the rail line. Several weeks ago House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R – Crown) foresaw local taxpayers being stuck with the bill, stating that even though the legislature would not fill the project’s funding gap, that the Met Council would “find a way” to push the project through.  

In July, the federal government had green-lighted the $1.84 billion project, moving it closer to construction.  However, the $135 million in local funding was holding up the project from being built. The Metropolitan Council reported that due to “inaction by lawmakers”, the price to build the SWLRT light rail line increased by $19 million.

Hennepin County committed an extra $20.5 million to the project, raising its contribution to $185 million. The vote was massively successful with 6-1 voting in favor of the additional funds.  Standing alone as the dissenter, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson had warned local taxpayers that they would end up paying for the rail line, previously telling Alpha News, “the problem is it’s not going to stop the project, it’s still going to get funded, the money is just going to come from a different pot of taxpayers. So, rather than being spread throughout the state, metro taxpayers are going to end up paying for it.”  Johnson went as far as creating an informational video explaining the real costs of the project, which includes $25-$35 million in subsidies for riders every year.  

Last week, Governor Dayton hosted a public discussion over SWLRT and presented the plan to fund it.  While many spoke in favor of the project, several community members and business leaders asked for more focus on transportation, rather than transit.  

According to the Star Tribune, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said the Hennepin County Rail Authority is expected to raise property taxes by $3M in 2017 to fund SWLRT and other transit projects, including the Bottineau Blue Line light-rail project.  

MPR reports Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck said the Council likely won’t end up filling the gap, saying he intends to work with the Legislature to secure Southwest light rail financing next year.

The votes enable the rail line to qualify for $929 million in federal matching funds.  Alpha News has reached out to several county commissioners for comment and will make updates to this story. Subscribe to Alpha News for further coverage.