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Senators reject taking Twin Cities money

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators blasted an idea to take $95 million a year from Twin Cities transit programs to fund school bus programs around the state, but leaned toward considering school buses as part of the transit system.

"Education needs to get their own money," Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, told bill sponsor Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar.

However, several senators in the Transportation Committee on Tuesday said they liked the idea of combining school bus and transit programs -- or at least investigating the possibility. For instance, Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said he would like to combine efforts of the blue rural transit buses driving in his district with the yellow school buses.

The committee took no action on Gimse's proposal, with Chairman Murphy telling Gimse and others to see if they could find a way to make the concept work without taking money out of Twin Cities' transit accounts.

Gimse said he received more than 50 letters and e-mails from schools that support his concept of increasing per-pupil transportation funding about $137. However, Twin Cities-area legislators said they would not support taking money from their transit programs to be spread across the state.

The Willmar senator, in his first term, said students are finding themselves walking longer distance to schools and districts have trouble keeping aging bus fleets safe.

The biggest complaints about the measure came on the funding plan.

"Maybe you'd like to give up your ethanol money to serve transportation," Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, told Gimse.

Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, said that rural schools hurt financially. His district, for instance, receives $5,140 a year per student less than in Minneapolis, he said.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.