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Is LRT a Legislative Poker Chip for 2000?
by Michael Khoo
February 10, 2000
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Nearly $100 million in state funds for light-rail transit is under attack by House Republicans. GOP leaders say a proposed LRT line in Minneapolis is a waste of taxpayer money and they'll seek to repeal the bonding authority. Senate DFLers and Governor Jesse Ventura say the funding will stay.

LATE IN THE LAST LEGISLATIVE SESSION, Governor Ventura, Senate DFLers, and House Republicans struck a comprehensive tax-and-spending deal that seemed to offer something for everyone. A key item in the agreement was more money for an LRT line connecting downtown Minneapolis with the Mall of America, including a stop at the airport. The new funding, when combined with money from 1998, brought the total state contribution to $100 million. Now GOP leaders say they've had a change of heart.
Sviggum: The cost of the light-rail project, the fact that it's not going to relieve any congestion upon our roads. We think that there are better ways, more cost-effective ways to move people from the transit mode and move people from one destination to another.
Republicans will face a difficult time killing LRT. Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe says the Senate still supports it. And he complains Sviggum is backing out of a deal after the other parties have upheld their end of the bargain and slashed income tax rates.
Moe: He got the tax cut that he wanted for the - more than I would have gone - in terms of the wealthiest in our society. And now, of course, he's apparently trying to renege on the transportation package from last year. That's unfortunate.
Sviggum, however, says Republicans weren't the first to break the agreement. He says the deal unravelled after Ventura vetoed other bonding projects that lawmakers presumed were part of the total package. He also says the Ventura administration tried to hide the real costs of the transit line.
Sviggum: We were sold the light-rail deal upon a $446 million figure. Now the deal has changed dramatically to $540 - maybe even $700 or $800 million - when you include the infrastructure changes. So the deal, the agreement has dramatically changed from the standpoint of the size, the scope of the dollars.
The Transportation Department puts the official cost of the project at $548 million. Administration officials say the jump in price mainly reflects inflation. Despite the long odds of actually withdrawing the LRT funding, Sviggum denies the move is merely a poker chip for end-of-the-session dealing. He says the Republicans think they can "educate" the governor and convince him to consider transit alternatives. Ventura doesn't seem inclined.
VENTURA: They said something, I heard, about educating me? Well, didn't they vote twice to do it? And now they're not going to do it? At what point do they do their educating? After they vote? Or before they vote?
Ventura questioned why Republican leaders would want to kill a project which he says originated under Republican governor Arne Carlson. At the