by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Met Council Chairwoman Susan Haigh portrayed the region as primed for transit and the means of accelerating its growth at hand.
Haigh delivered her transit-focused State of the Region Address Monday (Feb. 11) in the restored St. Paul Union Depot, which next year should see Central Corridor Light Rail passengers crossing its broad polished floors.
Haigh’s speech comes at a time when lawmakers are digesting Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s state budget proposal, one including a regional, quarter-cent sales tax dedicated to transit.
The transit sale tax is controversial, partly because some officials view their regions as slighted in terms of transit development.
Haigh views the proposed dedicated sales tax as a remedy.
“If we have a certain, dedicated, reliable funding stream, then we will be able to serve the entire region,” Haigh said, speaking after her address.
“If we don’t have that, we won’t,” she said.
Achieving a reliable funding stream will help people visualize what’s coming and when, Haigh explained.
“And that’s what helps people see what part of the region will be served next,” she said.
“What the prioritization is. And they’ll know it’s going to happen. It’s the uncertainty, I think, that’s hard for people,” she said.
In her speech, Haigh depicted the metro, the economic “furnace” of the state’s economy, as falling behind other regions in terms of transit.
This is a big deal.
“Today’s Minnesotans want more transit,” she said.
“Tomorrow’s Minnesotans expect more transit,” Haigh said.
Indeed, 46 percent of drivers ages 18 to 24 said they would choose Internet access over owning a car, she said. And, the ability to get a head start on work combined with a shorter, stress-free commute with electronic devices glowing makes transit a “no-brainer,” Haigh argued.
“A robust, 21st Century transit system will help our region compete for talent and jobs,” she said.
Discussions on the Central Corridor, or the Green Line, began 20 years ago.
“Let’s not wait another 20 years to open the next line,” she said.
In illustrating the heart beat of transit, Haigh told a story of a little boy in Sunday school who when asked what the moral of the story of Jonah and the Whale was, concluded, “swallowing people makes whales throw up.”
The point of the governor’s transit sale tax proposal isn’t simply to build more transit, Haigh said.
“Transit expansion is a means to an end and that end is job growth, business growth, and ultimately prosperity for our residents, today and tomorrow,” she said.
“We are at a pivotal moment for our transit system,” Haigh said.
People need to come aboard, she said.
“There are enough seats for everyone who wants to help create a 21st century transit system, whether you live in Maplewood or Minnetonka,” she said.
“We need you on board!”
Haigh indicated the proposed transit sales tax is not tied to the proposed sales tax expansion — a proposal that has received a cool reception at the Minnesota Legislature.
It’s an “independent proposal,” Haigh said, speaker after her speech.
“We’re absolutely thrilled the governor has included this dedicated sales tax as part of his budget proposal,” she said.
Several hundred people gathered to listen to the chairwoman’s address.