Unions and Chamber join fight against transit cuts

10:49 PM, Sep 20, 2011   |    comments
  • Hiawatha Light Rail in downtown Minneapolis
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MINNEAPOLIS -- With public transportation funding on the chopping block in Washington, some unlikely allies have joined forces to make the connection between transit and jobs.

That's why the man who heads the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce rallied with members of the Amalgamated Transit Union at a press event Tuesday in downtown Minneapolis.

"Let's face it, this is about jobs," Todd Klingel told reporters and bus drivers who gathered next to the Hiawatha Light Rail line outside the Hennepin County Government Center.

"It's about keeping jobs," Klingel remarked. "It's about creating jobs. It's about serving those who have jobs, and that's what the chambers of commerce are about."

He said 89 percent of the business people who belong to the Minneapolis chamber want to see more investment in light rail, bus rapid transit, regional commuter rail and other transportation infrastructure.

On Sept. 8 a U.S. House subcommittee approved an appropriations bill that would cut public transportation funding by 38 percent over a six-year period.  The bill would result in a $17 billion cut in federal spending on transit, according to an analysis done by the American Public Transportation Association.

An economist working for the APTA also estimated that 620,000 jobs would be lost nationally as a result of the cutbacks, including 8,500 in Minnesota and 5,200 in Wisconsin.

"The 35 percent cut that's been proposed from the U.S. House would be devastating to construction jobs, and all the related industries such as design firms, product firms, engineering, equipment and materials companies," Klingel explained.

Michelle Sommers, who heads the local transit drivers union, said that too many Americans who benefit from transit are still sitting on the sidelines in the debate.  She urged them to step up and make themselves heard in Congress.

"We had a bridge fall down here in Minneapolis just four years ago," Sommers argued. "Here in Minnesota we should understand that we need to build this country, not let it fall apart."

The connection between transit and the economy has never been hard to make for those who don't or can't drive.

"I didn't always own a vehicle," Tabresa Reese, a Metro Transit bus driver who participated in the rally told KARE.

"That was the way I was always able to get my kids from point A to point B. That was the way my children were able to choose different schools for themselves."

The Saint Paul resident said she can't rely solely buses in her personal life because of routes that were cut as part of belt tightening at Metro Transit.

"I can't get a bus after 5:00,  and I've got a family of four. I have to have a vehicle."

Minneapolis attorney Christopher Bell, who is blind, said persons with disabilities already have a tough time getting to their jobs. He predicted more service cuts force more persons out of the job market.

"We have to be together," Bell said, lamenting the political climate that tends to minimize the importance of government services.

"We are a community. Government is a reflection of our community values."

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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