ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Metropolitan Council has come under fire for budget “inconsistencies” after an audit reveals a $237 million budget discrepancy.
A report released last week by the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) revealed the Met Council gave a different budget forecast to the federal government than what was presented to the state legislature earlier this year.
This spring, the Met Council reported an $85 million deficit to the state legislature, largely due to rising costs for Metro Mobility bus service. While setting the 2017-2018 biennium budget, lawmakers agreed to give a one-time extra $70 million in taxpayer funding to help bridge the gap.
Now the OLA audit reveals the Met Council offered a different budget forecast to the federal government related to light rail projects like the Southwest Light Rail extension. According to the audit, the Met Council reported a $152 million surplus to the federal government.
The $237 million discrepancy has many lawmakers raising eyebrows.
Rep. Linda Runbeck (R-Circle Pines) called the budget inconsistencies “deceit” and questions whether the Met Council intentionally “misled Minnesota taxpayers.”
“$237 million dollars isn’t a rounding error—it’s deceit by the Met Council and why I have long advocated to bring reform and needed accountability to this government agency,” Runbeck said in a statement. “Either they are lying to the federal government to secure funding for the Southwest Light Rail boondoggle, or they misled Minnesota taxpayers who paid for their supposed operating deficit to the tune of $70 million. It’s time for the governor-appointed unelected bureaucrats at the Met Council to be transparent and honest with the people of Minnesota.”
Republicans in the Senate have also been outspoken against the Met Council following the release of the report. In a video posted to the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus Facebook page, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) called out the Met Council, saying it appears they “cooked the books.”
Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) is calling for increased accountability for the Met Council, releasing a statement on the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus’ website.
“It is extremely disturbing to see the Office of the Legislative Auditor reveal such a large discrepancy between the Met Council’s reports on their operational budget,” Kiffmeyer said in a statement. “$237 million is hardly a simple budgeting error, and given the Council and Governor’s insistence this past session on providing $85 million dollars taxpayer funded aid to fill their operational deficit it could reasonably be inferred that the Met Council has taken advantage of the people of Minnesota.”
The full audit of Met Council’s budget assumptions can be read here.