The Governor Squirms: Mobility Issue Symbolizes Failed Policies

Harry Truman said, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”  but Governor Arne Carlson apparently hasn’t got the kind of intestinal fortitude to stick to his policies when challenged by real people who are in trouble because of his callous approach to running our state government.

Arne Carlson says, “It’s not my fault, I’ll get the money.”

When the “Fair Fares Coalition” – I like that name – came to visit the mansion on June 26th they made it clear to Arne that they were about to be deprived of their public transportation by the new RTB policies imposed on Metro Mobility.  When Arne looked at the faces and the bodies assembled at his gate, he went limp.  Starting off with a firm denunciation of the state legislature for causing the problem, he went on to promise a solution, a loan (or something) to resolve this situation until it can be permanently corrected in 1992 by the villanous legislators.  His resolution seems to be fading as the memory of the signs and faces also recedes.

These were the same people who testified in public hearings last winter and spring about the effect of underfunding Metro Mobility.  The evidence then was unequivocal, the obligation clear.  Higher fares and lessened service were going to deprive a lot of already deprived people of access to transportation, something the majority of our citizens take for granted.  The RTB board listened, and the legislative committees listened but apparently did not hear the voices.  Neither did the governor. 

The governor set this process in motion last January, when he made a demand on the legislature that two million dollars be cut from transportation funding.  It appears that Michael Ehrlichmann, chairman of the RTB thought it appropriate to take the whole cut out of Metro Mobility, since he cut his budget request for coming biennium to 27.3 million dollars instead of the needed 29 Million.  Our legislators in their non-wisdom negotiated a new cut down to 25.3 million dollars which the governor signed without complaint.

All of these public servants treated the matter as those it was just a numbers game.  The riders who faithfully turned out by invitation each time a “public hearing” was held, knew better,and said so.  Obviously, their letters and testimony were ignored after the hearings, since discussions went back to numbers thereafter.  We were privileged to hear one such statement, by Susan Warner, reprinted in the May 1991 ACCESS PRESS and sent to vital committee members last spring.  Her article explained the issue simply and directly, and why it must be solved in human terms.  If anyone who doesn’t understand (including Gov. Carlson) would like a reprint, call Access Press.

At any rate, the combined powers that be, legislators, the RTB and the governor, have delivered something totally unsatisfactory.  First announced were cuts in service, but now RTB says they are not going to cut service since they probably would be violating the proposed rules of the ADA.  The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was passed a year ago, but no rules for implementing it have been announced.  Supposed to be available on July 26, 1992 – had to have hearings, you know.

Second, and still a serious threat is the proposed increase in fares.  Not a minor bump, such as “regular” passengers incurred on their mainline service, but double the existing fares!  The impact of this sort of increase was clearly spelled out in the aforementioned hearings.  Most of the ridership have extremely low incomes, some have jobs that pay $20.00 per week, many others must “spenddown” income to about $400.00 per month to continue receiving medical assistance.  Who cares?  Not the people in charge, apparently.

Michael Ehrlichmann, esteemed chairman of the RTB, has put forward a neat solution to the problem.  He suggests that instead of limiting service, Metro Mobility could reconsider eligibilty, tightening rules  to reduce the number using the service to a more manageable few.  That’s a numbers game with vengance.

So now the Governor, the same compassionate guy who vetoed the health care access bill, is playing politics with the issue.  Blaming others, promising help, and trying to avoid the reality which came to confront him at the mansion on June 26th.  The people who showed up are not numbers, they need help and his administration has treated them shabbily.  Let’s see if he can bring himself to really do something. 

Use your executive power, governor.  Recognize that this is an emergency – spend a little of the “rainy day” hoard, and show that you really have some concern for rights of the disabled.  It might even help to rebuild your image.

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