The Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) released a report today on Met Council finances, showing a $237 million discrepancy between the funding they reported to the federal government and the funding they reported to the Minnesota State Legislature. The nonpartisan OLA was directed to complete the audit under legislation authored by Representative Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, Chair of the House Transportation and Regional Governance Policy Committee, and Senator Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes.
In their efforts to gain federal funding for Southwest Light Rail, the Met Council reported a $152 million balance in their total operating budget, while in their report to the Legislature earlier this year, they reported an $85 million deficit. During budget negotiations this spring, Governor Dayton insisted that the final Transportation Finance bill include $70 million in one-time taxpayer funding to cover the Met Council deficit.
“$237 million dollars isn’t a rounding error—it’s deceit by the Met Council and why I have long advocated to bring reform and needed accountability to this government agency,” said Rep. Runbeck. “Either they are lying to the federal government to secure funding for the Southwest Light Rail boondoggle, or they misled Minnesota taxpayers who paid for their supposed operating deficit to the tune of $70 million. It’s time for the governor-appointed unelected bureaucrats at the Met Council to be transparent and honest with the people of Minnesota.”
“Earlier this year, representatives from the Metropolitan Council appeared in front of the Senate Transportation Committee and begged for more taxpayer money to fill an $85 million operating deficit. Now we find out, in order to obtain federal funding for the bloated Southwest Light Rail Transit and Bottineau projects, they were simultaneously reporting a positive balance of $152 million to the U.S. Department of Transportation,” said Senator Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, Chair of the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee. “As reported by the Legislative Auditor’s office, that’s a $237 million discrepancy. It would seem Governor Dayton’s appointees to the Met Council are either seriously incompetent or have intentionally deceived the Minnesota Legislature and the U.S. Department of Transportation in order to maximize the amount of taxpayer dollars it receives.
“I believe this is a perfect example of what happens when unelected officials that are not accountable to the public exclusively control public projects. I look forward to hearing the Met Council’s explanation of the findings by the Legislative Auditor.”
“Time and again, I and other Republican members of the House Transportation Finance Committee pointed out apparent discrepancies in the financial information we received from the Met Council. They did their best to explain them away based on differences in fiscal years and interpretation of the data. The OLA has now revealed that the Met Council seems to be adjusting their financial reports depending on the desired outcome and the governor’s office used those reports to support his demands for state funds to cover the alleged $70 million deficit. We look forward to discovering the truth,” concluded Representative Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, Chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee.
This session, Republicans advanced several initiatives to bring needed reform and accountability to the Met Council including allowing Met Council board members to be elected instead of governor-appointed, requiring additional legislative oversight of the Met Council budget, and increasing transit farebox recovery to 40 percent by 2022. All Republican efforts to reform the Met Council were strongly opposed by Democrats and Governor Dayton.
The OLA plans to look further into Met Council finances and will be providing additional reports to the Legislature.