Dayton proposes to cut Park Board funding over Southwest light rail concerns

Gov. Mark Dayton is proposing to cut $3.77 million of funding to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board over the next two years over concerns that it has deterred the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project.

Dayton’s budget, released Tuesday morning, calls for eliminating $1.8 million each year of the next biennium “due to the Board’s continuing efforts to obstruct progress on the Southwest Light Rail Transit project.” He recommends a decrease in funding, through the Metropolitan Council, from the general fund and natural resources fund, “eliminating the Minneapolis Park Board as an eligible recipient of these funds.”

“It’s essential that the Park Board get out of the way of this,” Dayton told reporters.  

The Park Board approved a resolution earlier this month to send a letter to the Federal Transit Administration regarding “legal jeopardy” of the current SWLRT plan. Since last fall, the Park Board has spent $500,000 to study tunnel alternatives to the Met Council’s plan for a bridge in the Kenilworth Corridor. The results of the study’s second phase are expected in the next month.  

“In my view, if they have all this additional money to throw around for consultants, then they don’t need all the state money that is being allocated to them,” Dayton said.

Park Board president Liz Wielinski issued a statement Tuesday denying the assertion that the board is obstructing the project.

“I am extremely disappointed that the governor wants to punish the Park Board and more than 15 million users of regional parks in Minneapolis because the Met Council did not do their job in their pursuit of taking park land,” she said. 

Her statement continued:

Today Governor Dayton recommended reducing $3.77 million in funding for the regional parks that the MPRB operates and maintains for local and non-local visitors. I am dismayed that he is recommending this reduction in funding to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board “due to the Board’s continuing efforts to obstruct progress on the Southwest Light Rail Transit project,” when the Park Board has provided the Governor with ample information to the contrary. In addition, the Governor has been misinformed about the Park Board using state money to do the engineering studies; the Park Board has not and cannot use state money for these studies.

 The rest of the statement can be found here

In an interview with the Southwest Journal Tuesday, Wielinski said Dayton’s proposed funding cuts would hurt some of the Twin Cities’ top tourist destinations, including the Chain of Lakes Regional Park and Minnehaha Falls. 

“We know there’s been a lot of pressure to get the SWLRT built,” she said. “We’re doing what we’re elected to do.”