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Reconfigure transit funds, county officials say

Although state lawmakers decided not to go through with an increase in the gas tax this year, Washington County officials are making their legislative agenda clear when it comes to regional transportation funding.

Washington County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Lisa Weik said constituents need to know who exactly is imposing the increase, and that it shouldn't be local government.

Back in 2008, Washington County opted to participate in the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) - a regional coalition that funds transit projects in the metropolitan area through a dedicated quarter-cent sales tax.

Since then, the county used those funds to do the initial federal required studies for Gateway Corridor.

"I think Gateway is the first corridor in the Twin Cities to fund these studies with sales tax instead of property tax," Weik said.

Which she and the rest of the board are OK with.

But when asked this year whether commissioners would support another quarter-cent increase to fund statewide transit projects, they passed a resolution April 9 to encourage the Legislature to sign a bill that brings adequate funding to Minnesota's statewide transportation system.

"For my district, I would say the state needs to levy it," Weik said.

That, Weik said, is the first step to improving the system, which Commissioner Kriesel called "fundamentally flawed."

"There is a great number (of constituents) that don't buy into the transit vision," he said. "Right now, there is no way I would vote to increase the sales tax."

Local officials are also advocating to reconfigure the Metropolitan Council, which administers CTIB money that's still governed by counties.

"There is no appetite right now to have a non-elected body govern $350 million a year in sales tax," Weik said of the total amount resulting from the proposed quarter-cent increase in Washington County, in addition to a three-quarter cent increase in Scott and Carver counties that don't currently participate in CTIB.

Weik said until the Metropolitan Council is reconfigured, it doesn't make sense to send funds there to be used by those who have taxing authority but didn't stand for election.

Instead, she's proposing county board and city government representation on the Metropolitan Council in addition to governor appointed individuals.

"I'm not criticizing those serving now," Weik said. "They work hard, they take the job seriously. I admire the people that have served on the Met Council. However, I think there is a fatal flaw."

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.