OUR VIEW: County Board wise to maintain transit program involvementThe Washington County Board’s 2008 vote to impose a county sales tax for transit provided a new way to pay for expanded bus and/or rail service to the growing east metro.
The Washington County Board’s 2008 vote to impose a county sales tax for transit provided a new way to pay for expanded bus and/or rail service to the growing east metro.
Nearly three years later, there still is no feasible funding source for major transit expansion in the area other than to continue membership in the five-county CTIB program, which is funded by a tax equivalent to 25 cents on a $100 purchase. And there are compelling reasons to stick with the five-county venture. Here are two: The east and southeast metro’s transportation needs are not waning, and the regional pool of sales tax revenue could help to improve transit in Washington County in ways the county could not financially support on its own.
A divided County Board was wise to recognize that once again last week. A narrow majority of commissioners – three of five on the County Board – unofficially pledged continued participation in CTIB. It is worth noting that one commissioner, Gary Kriesel, who initially opposed the county’s participation because of the timing of the vote now is an ardent supporter of CTIB. Also, Commissioner Lisa Weik of Woodbury, who once campaigned against CTIB, now sees continued membership as important for the county.
Commissioners Bill Pulkrabek of Oakdale and Autumn Lehrke of Cottage Grove, who is new to the County Board, argued that CTIB is a bad deal for Washington County and that the county should put the brakes on transit investment. That position puts Lehrke at odds with leading officials – including two mayors – from the three largest communities in her District 4: Cottage Grove, Newport and St. Paul Park.
The elected city leaders view the proposed Red Rock Corridor transit development – expanded bus service followed by commuter rail – as vital to economic development efforts in south Washington County in the coming decades. The cities believe they will need mass transit along the corridor to be competitive with other areas of the Twin Cities.
Simply opposing the transit sales tax no doubt is popular with some voters, but Lehrke so far has failed to make a compelling argument for a viable alternative to CTIB. Lobbying the cash-strapped Metropolitan Council for more express bus service – as she suggested last week – likely would not be successful.
Lehrke has correctly noted that Washington County is not guaranteed any funding from CTIB after 2013. However, there appears no collective effort among other counties to snub Washington County out of millions of dollars for transit improvements over the next decade or longer, especially if population and traffic statistics support those improvements and county representatives remain engaged.
The county should stay on track.