The Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) released a report on Met Council finances on Wednesday revealing 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 Republicans in the legislature this past session.
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.
“It is extremely disturbing to see the Office of the Legislative Auditor reveal such a large discrepancy between the Met Council’s reports on their operational budget,” said Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), Chair of the Senate’s State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee. “$237 million dollars is hardly a simple budgeting error, and given the Council and Governor’s insistence this past session on providing $85 million dollars taxpayer funded aid to fill their operational deficit it could reasonably be inferred that the MET Council has taken advantage of the people of Minnesota. As the OLA continues to investigate these discrepancies I will stand firm in asking for additional accountability and reform to the current operation of the Council advocate for more accountability and reform to the Council.”
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 in the legislature and Governor Dayton.
The OLA plans to look further into Met Council finances and will be providing additional reports to the Legislature in the near future.