Newspaper article

Gov. Carlson Clarifies Light Rail Legacy

Newspaper article

Gov. Carlson Clarifies Light Rail Legacy

Article excerpt

In the process of attempting to sell the notion that deal-making is a legislative virtue, particularly in the current battle over funding for a light rail project, Iric Nathanson (Political fights over light rail projects in Minnesota is nothing new, May 6) tried to recreate the story behind the origin of LRT in the late 1990s. Unfortunately, he relied on too few sources and failed to contact key players, including me.

First of all, there have been a multitude of supporters for mass and rapid transit, dating all the way back to the 1960s when I was on the Minneapolis City Council. But the stumbling block was always costs and the allocation of costs.

When I became Governor in 1991, I inherited a $2.3 billion deficit with virtually all reserves depleted. In addition, our credit rating had been downgraded. My first priority was to stabilize our finances and impose discipline into long-term planning. This meant that any and all programs were examined and evaluated on the basis of need and value as well as affordability. Light rail was no exception.

Yes, there were numerous public officials supporting light rail, but they tended to disappear when the issue of payment arose.

My recollection is that what broke open the door of opportunity was a call from Congressman Marty Sabo who indicated that the Minnesota congressional delegation would support massive federal funding for LRT if I would commit the state's participation. We examined the numbers and pledged our full support.

It was the $200 million from the federal government that allowed the final financial piece to fall into place. After all, this represented some 5o percent of the Hiawatha Project. Without the help we received from Congressmen Sabo and Jim Oberstar, light rail never would have become a reality. It was the partnership with the federal government that solved the problem of affordability. …

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