Allow me to juxtapose two news stories. The first is a local story, a small rebellion so obscure you might not have noticed it, which signals an important shift in regional partnerships. The other is an international story with large and as yet unknown global consequences. Both stories feature a rebuke to modern bureaucracy by the people who pay for, and live subject to, unchecked authority.
The big story, of course, is Brexit. As one commentator put it, “This hugely unexpected vote by the British people represents nothing less than a rejection of the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels who are disconnected from the hopes and fears of average working class people throughout the EU.”
The small, local story is Dakota County commissioners voting 6-1 to exit something called “CTIB” or the Counties Transit Improvement Board. CTIB is made up of elected officials from five of the seven metro counties, but it is dominated by another body of unelected bureaucrats in Minneapolis and St. Paul who are disconnected from the hopes and fears of people throughout the metro area.
Created in 2008, CTIB is one of many transit organizations operating under the umbrella of the Metropolitan Council. CTIB uses revenues from certain sales taxes to fund transitways for bus rapid transit, light rail and commuter rail.
Thrive MSP 2040
The driving vision for transit, however, is dominated by the Met Council’s new long-term plan for the region called Thrive MSP 2040, a city-centric plan for transit and housing that demands more resources from the suburbs than they get back. This is why all five suburban counties banded together to reject the 2040 transit plan when it was announced in 2014,yet the plan remains unchanged today.
One of the plan’s architects is Peter McLaughlin, a Hennepin County Commissioner and Chair of CTIB, who has been directing transit policy in Minnesota for years.
McLaughlin, sounding a bit petulant, not unlike the EU Stay crowd, reacted last week to the news of Dakota’s exit: “I’m disappointed. I think it’s a step backward in regionalism, but that’s their prerogative. We’re going to move forward and invest in transit. They just won’t be a part of it.”
That’s the idea, of course. Dakota County, and maybe other counties, want out.
Vision doesn’t meet Dakota County needs
Dakota County has been contributing about 13 percent of CTIB’s total transit tax, but only receives about 7 percent of its capital and operating grants. Dakota County tax dollars are increasingly going to fund a vision that is not meeting the county’s growing needs.
Rather than simply focusing on the delivery of efficient regional systems in support of economic development, which is the sensible side of regionalism, the Met Council has decided its true and higher mission is using its power over transit, waste water and housing to engineer “outcomes” for income inequality, the achievement gap, and climate change. The council has even mapped the region by race and income. The council’s transportation and housing policies are all viewed through various “lenses” like equity. Here is how the council describes it:
“The Council has identified equity as one of five key regional outcomes from Thrive MSP 2040, alongside stewardship, prosperity, livability and sustainability. In Thrive MSP 2040, the Metropolitan Council commits to using equity as a lens to evaluate its operations, planning and investments. The Council also commits to exploring its authority to use its resources and roles to mitigate the place-based dimension of racial, ethnic and income-based disparities.”
What exactly does that mean?
This self-aggrandizing, perpetually creeping mission imposes a relentlessly “progressive” framework on the entire region. I am sure this approach to regional planning is popular with the reigning elite, but it does not work in Dakota County and other communities focused on increasing mobility for residents so they can get to work rather than a top-down plan that tells people how and where to live.
Dominated by Hennepin and Ramsey
CTIB was supposed to shift some of the Met Council’s authority to counties, giving local elected officials more say, but the organization is dominated by Hennepin County, followed by Ramsey County, and the council’s transit-oriented development agenda.
That agenda, if successful, will direct billions of dollars to the Southwest and Bottineau LRT projects, leaving less for more service-oriented and cost-efficient bus transit, as well as road expansion for the metro. It will also direct taxpayer subsidies for housing and business along those rail lines.
This city-centric transit plan has not just been rejected by suburban counties, it is also at the heart of the 2016 legislative session crack-up, with Gov. Mark Dayton and core urban legislators demanding funds for light rail. This crack-up impacts all of Minnesota.
Like voters outside of London in Great Britain, many Minnesotans in the metro area feel their concerns are being ignored, and worse, that they are being asked to fund policies that are not working. Unlike Great Britain, metro counties and cities do not have the legal power to exit the Met Council’s regional jurisdiction. The Legislature created the Met Council, and only the Legislature can fix it.
In the meantime, however, Dakota County can exit CTIB, and plans to say “Cheerio” in 2017.
Kim Crockett is vice president of Center of the American Experiment and director of the Employee Freedom Project.
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