Funding for Southwest LRT: If it Looks Like Debt, is it Debt?

The following article by Janet Moore was published in the September 6, 2016 issue of the Star Tribune.

Funding for Southwest LRT: If it Looks Like Debt, is it Debt?

As that great baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

It seemed that way last week when the Metropolitan Council adopted a plan to issue $103.5 million in “certificates of participation” (COPs) to help pay for the $1.9 billion Southwest light-rail project.

Because state lawmakers failed to fund their anticipated share of the project, the Met Council was left scrambling for cash. The project faced imminent shutdown — and with $140 million already spent on it.

This isn’t the first time that certificates of participation have been suggested for the project linking Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. Talk surfaced two summers ago and has lingered ever since.

The Met Council first floated the idea as a stopgap measure after failing to win state financial support for Southwest during the 2015 legislative session.

At the time, Rep. Tim Kelly, a Republican from Red Wing who chaired the House transportation committee, wrote to Met Council Chair Adam Duininck, questioning whether the body could legally issue the certificates. After the two met, Kelly said he was assured they were legal but continued to have many concerns. (The Met Council used COPs to renovate its St. Paul headquarters a few years ago.)

To continue reading, click on the link to the Star Tribune

Funding for Southwest LRT: If it looks like debt, is it debt?