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Dayton to Park Board: Get Behind Southwest Light Rail or It'll Cost You

The feud between Governor Dayton and the Minneapolis Park Board over Southwest Light Rail just got real.

Today as part of Dayton's $42 billion, two-year budget proposal he recommended slashing $3.77 million in state funding for the Park Board unless it drops its insistence on tunneling the tracks underneath the Kenilworth Channel. See also: Met Council Ignores Tunnel Drama, Presents SWLRT Bridge Designs

The Park Board has paid $500,000 to a consultant so far to study the feasibility of the tunnel. Currently the plan is to clear out enough space to fit the passenger trains alongside the freight trains and the biking path going over the channel.

"I don't think state money should be going for them to spend a half million dollars on consultants to just obstruct the overall purpose of the project," Dayton told reporters during a press conference yesterday.

Sorry Mark, but the Park Board says it hasn't spent a dime of state money on those studies; that cash came from its own reserves. The money Dayton is threatening to withhold goes toward regional parks in Minneapolis -- Minnehaha Falls, Mississippi River Gorge, Theodore Wirth, and the Chain of Lakes.

"It was unusual, I think, for the governor to call out one specific organization in doing this type of thing," said Park Board President Liz Wielinski. "Maybe not the best precedent going forward."

The Park Board will fold whatever its consultant finds into the comments every party involved will submit to the federal government when SWLRT looks for final approval later this year.

In the meantime, Wielinski sounded like she was not backing down despite Dayton's threats.

"We're going to leave it up to the [Federal Transit Authority]. If they determine the tunnel isn't prudent or feasible that would be the end of it," said Wielinksi. "I'm surprised the governor isn't just letting this play out,"

Not everyone on the Park Board has agreed with spending a big wad of cash (and making political enemies) just to explore whether a tunnel is possible.

"We spent $22,000 in legal fees just to get us to the point to advise us to spend $500,000 in engineering fees, so I'm pretty concerned about how deep the rabbit hole is," said Commissioner Brad Bourn, who voted against the engineering study along with fellow Commissioner Steffanie Musich.

Bourn would've preferred to sign on with the route, and then find money to avoid scaling back youth programming, which took cuts this year.

"I just don't know how much more money we should be spending just because we got an answer we didn't want to hear," he said.

Dayton still has to get the Legislature to sign off on his hardball tactics, and told the Strib the funding could be restored when he issues an updated budget in March "if the Met Council chair informs him that progress has been made toward a resolution."

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