Metro Mobility in Crisis: Budget Cuts Endanger the System – Jeopardize Jobs and Education for the Handicapped

Wednesday, June 26th, was an extremely hot, humid day.  Temperatures peaked at 97 degrees in late afternoon when the crowd […]

Wednesday, June 26th, was an extremely hot, humid day.  Temperatures peaked at 97 degrees in late afternoon when the crowd began to assemble in front of Governor Carlson’s mansion to protest the recent cuts in service by Metro Mobilty and the concurrent doubling of fares.   Signs were carried by obviously uncomfortable people in wheelchairs, people with white canes and even seeing eye dogs.

Signs and speeches emphasized the potential destructive impact of these new policies on those dependent on Metro Mobilty’s services.  Unfair treatment, jobs and education made inaccessible, and curtailment of ordinary activities were all cited.

This was the scene that greeted the Governor as he came down the walk from the mansion.  Imacculate in a black suit, white shirt and tie, the governor took the microphone and asked the protesters for their attention.  He said that he sympathized, but that the protest should be directed to the legislature who cut funding to Metro Mobility over his objections.  This drew a mixed reaction from the group and more shouted demands for change.  The governor insisted the cuts were not his idea but resulted because the legislature had failed to allocate enough money to Metro Mobilty.  He said he had asked for more, but the legislators had decided to cut the proposal he supported, and that the end result was the existing shortfall.

He went on to say that he appreciated everyone’s concern, that his mother is blind, making the situation even more personal and that he would explore every avenue to help. He reminded them that he was facing “a two billion dollar shortfall” and repeated that the problem was created by the legislature over his objections, and that a real solution could not be enacted until 1992.  He finished by saying he would do everything in his power to fund the program until year end, which drew some cheers from the audience.

The governor then moved into the crowd, shaking hands and reiterating his statements, while offering sympathy for the protesters.  Some of the demonstrators were openly hostile to this gesture and  some said they felt he was lying to them.  The governor simply moved on through the group.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported on Thursday the 27th, that Governor Carlson had promised to set up a loan of $400,000.00 to 500,000.00 to Metro Mobilty to tide them over until the end of 1991.  The source of the loan was not clear, but the governor’s office said Carlson had ordered finance commissioner John Gunyou to “find $400,000 to $500,000 by July first to fund them for the rest of the year”.

Several state legislators were openly skeptical of the statement, saying that it was probably illegal, and unlikely to materialize.  Rep. Lee Greenfield pointed out that Gov. Carlson had the opportunity to make his wishes for more funds known before signing the final bill.  Greenfield said the rainy day fund could have made up the shortfall with the governor’s approval, but he never mentioned his concern until yesterday facing the protesters.

On Friday, June 28th, the Minneapolis Star Tribune said it appeared doubtful that the Governor’s promised loan would materialize and that the executive director of the Regional Transit Board, Greg Andrews, said they were proceeding with their plan to double their fares on Monday, July first. Gov. Carlson’s spokesman, Tim Droogsma, said he was “reasonably confident we’ll find a way to be able to do it”.  The governor’s office issued a statement to Access Press (reprinted in full on page 2) saying that “Governor Arne Carlson requested the RTB chairman and staff work with him to find a satisfactory and early solution to these concerns.”

On Saturday, June 29th, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that Metro Mobilty fares would double on Monday, despite Governor Carlson’s promise to funnel an additional $400,000 to the agency.  They also reported that Patsy Randall, the governor’s  deputy chief of staff said “The governor and the board are researching ways to subsidize the neediest riders”.

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