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Viewpoint: Let's work together for a fair transit allocation

As your state senator, I welcome the opportunity to listen to, learn from and work with other elected officials on issues of shared concern to our communities.

This bipartisan cooperation has been most evident in the work local officials and business leaders have accomplished in advocating for transportation and transit improvements for the East Metro.

The first meeting I held after taking office was with our local delegation of city and county officials to discuss their interest in advancing I-94 as a major transit corridor. What was then the transit improvement plan showed corridors going in all directions -- except for central Washington County.

We clearly needed to do something to catch up.

As we left that meeting, the beginning of a stronger, more united I-94 corridor advocacy group had been born. Within months, our local delegation took leadership in the development of the Eastern Transportation Alliance, or ETA, a broader effort to advance regional transit connected to a new Union Depot intermodal transit hub in St. Paul.

Passing a comprehensive transportation bill last February was critical to this vision.

When the Legislature passed its historic investment in transportation, we authorized metropolitan counties to form a joint powers agreement to provide a stable, dedicated source of transit funding for the region.

By allowing counties to make this investment through a quarter-cent local option sales tax, we provided a mechanism to improve mobility, attract economic development opportunities, and be able to compete for federal transit dollars.

Last spring, the Washington County Board voted to join four other metro counties to form the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB).

Providing metro counties with the option of approving a quarter-cent transit tax was intended to provide additional funding to advance transit improvement projects throughout the metropolitan region.

Unfortunately, as the financial plans developed by the CTIB unfolded, it became apparent that Washington County, smaller in population and its contribution to the sales tax total, was being shortchanged in the allocation of these funds.

I have shared with readers of this paper my extreme disappointment in the current financial distribution plan and the criteria for funding projects. I have expressed that same disappointment with commissioners from other counties who have weighted votes on the board established to manage the sales tax revenue.

I have been clear that viewing Washington County as an ATM for projects in other regions is not acceptable; the finance plan needs to be fixed to provide for a more equitable and timely distribution of funds.

Advocating that the solution can be found in repealing the transit sales tax does nothing to advance improved transit in our region.

Repealing the transit sales tax and withdrawing from the CTIB would be tragic given the strong coalition that has been developed to support accelerated transit improvements in Washington County.

In the end, reversing this decision would make it so much more difficult to compete against other counties in attracting new economic development to our side of the Metropolitan region.

The continued economic success and prosperity of our communities are linked to being part of a regional transit system and we can't do it alone.

This is why I and others are committed to fixing the funding plan and making it work for Washington County. I would prefer that the CTIB address this issue, but if the joint powers membership dominated by larger metro county commissioners will not fairly allocate these funds, I have stated over the past two months that I will work to provide this clarification in statute.

To that point, I have been working with months on legislative proposals that would fix the problem and ensure Washington County has access to a more equitable, stable, and dedicated source of transit sales tax funding. These proposals have been shared with city and county leaders.

Calling to repeal this tax without working to fix or renegotiate the current plan would not serve this community well.

I believe I can best serve the long term interests of this community and its people through aggressive advocacy, and that is what I will continue to do on this issue.

Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury) represents District 56 in the Minnesota Senate. She can be reached at (651) 296-4166 or at