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GOP targets Met Council as campaign issue

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
State Rep. Linda Runbeck speaking during a Thursday press conference. Behind her are, left to right, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, state Sen. David Osmek and state Rep. Peggy Scott.

A group of Republican state lawmakers and suburban mayors attempted Thursday to make the Metropolitan Council a campaign issue, calling on Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton to “rein in” the council and accusing the regional body of overreaching its authority.

The press conference, held at the state capitol, took on the council for its role in planning for enforcing regional growth plans on local governments; and for the pending Thrive MSP 2040 housing and transportation plan that has caused the five counties on the rim of the metropolitan area to unite in opposition.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said she has heard general complaints about the Met Council during her six years in office. But Thrive 2040 has intensified those concerns.

“Since they released this 2040 Thrive plan, this has come to a fever pitch,” Scott said. In addition to the county commissions from the five collar counties, suburban mayors are also beginning to raise concerns. Of most concern is what’s perceived as an emphasis on mass transit over roads, one that favors the Twin Cities over the suburban areas.

“The Thrive 2040 plan comes from an unelected body we believe overreaches well beyond the original purposes of the Met Council,” said Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines. She said she thinks the plan will increase housing costs and increase gridlock.

But the press conference, more than anything, put on display the sharp partisan differences over regional transportation.

The DFL, especially in the Twin Cities, is enthusiastic about light rail. Though the controversy over the alignment for Green Line expansion brought objections from some neighborhoods that are DFL strongholds, even those residents have been quick to say they strongly support light rail expansion. Minneapolis even has a policy against having park and ride lots in the city that might encourage use of cars, even though drivers would end up on light rail and buses. 

The GOP, however, is moving in another direction. Anti-rail is now a centerpiece of Republican transportation policy. One statement Thursday shows how far some are willing to take that. Scott challenged the argument that light rail is a means of connecting low-income residents to jobs. Cars, she asserted, are still the primary means of getting to jobs among those with low incomes and said poor people with cars have higher incomes.

“If the Met Council wants to help people out of poverty by having access to jobs, they should look for ways to increase, not decrease, automobile ownership,” she said.

But most of the anger Thursday was aimed at Thrive 2040, the Met Council’s latest 30-year plan. It is meant to create the overriding policy that guides the council’s plans for transportation, housing, water resources and regional parks.

While the council was formed in the 1960s to conduct regional planning and coordination, its powers and authority has been greatly expanded by the Legislature in the years since — usually with bipartisan votes — to include the delivery of transportation, wastewater and freshwater, as well as the power to enforce regional planning on local governments.

It has become a political issue in the past with two recent governors. Independent Jesse Ventura and Republican Tim Pawlenty both campaigned to eliminate it, though neither did so once they had the power to appoint all of the members. It has not become a significant issue between Dayton and his Republican challenger Jeff Johnson, but the legislators in attendance Thursday tried to make it one, pledging to stop the Thrive plan and put a moratorium on light rail expansion.  

One GOP lawmaker suggested a new means of confirming the 16 members who represent districts across the region. Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, said he would introduce legislation to let the cities help pick council members and remove them if they don’t like how they perform.

But while Osmek said was looking for solutions to complaints about the Met Council, he acknowledged that he has tried before to eliminate it. Doing so would have required a 214-page bill, which speaks to how entwined the Met Council is in state law.

The Met Council did not respond directly to the GOP press conference, but did release a general statement that said while it was interested in proposals to “help us make the most efficient and effective use of tax dollars to achieve good things for the region as a whole.”

Those changes, however, “should be focused on how to best support the council’s core mission of providing efficient and economic growth for a prosperous metropolitan region.”

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by David Markle on 10/17/2014 - 12:01 pm.

    Met Council a bad planner and overseer

    The GOP often opposes improvements to mass transit, it seems, but does anyone need to be reminded that the Met Council has done a bad job with Southwest Corridor plans and implementation? And the Met Council utterly failed to exercise good oversight when St. Paul and Ramsey Council undermined the Green Line’s regional value by making it travel slowly down the center of a busy street in the hope that it would promote development. Meanwhile automobiles continue to choke the freeways and the GOP tends to demand more roadways. We need to reform our transit planning and approval process, beginning with the Met Council.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/17/2014 - 04:14 pm.

    The corporate mind set

    Peggy Scott is surely correct that the automobile remains the primary means of getting to work for most people, including those with low incomes. “Primary,” however, does *not* mean “best for the region,” or even “best for the individual.” Encouraging automobile travel will merely trap those dependent upon their cars when the inevitable fuel crisis arrives, leaving them with no viable alternative.

    It should be pointed out that encouraging increased automobile ownership and usage is totally incompatible with fiscal responsibility and oft-stated goals involving driver and passenger safety. Trying to meet state standards for separation of vehicles, for example (3-second gaps between vehicles on roadways with speed limits of 50 mph or greater) while maintaining traffic flow at faster-than-gridlock speeds will require tripling the number of lane-miles in the 7-county metro area. Not only is that fiscally impossible, it would provide a totally self-inflicted environmental catastrophe.

    The beltway around the Twin Cities currently varies from 2 to 4 lanes in each direction, depending upon the specific location (e.g., it’s 4 lanes each way over the Mississippi in Fridley). Tripling that would have a beltway varying in width from 6 lanes *each way* to 12 lanes *each way* in order to maintain traffic flow at peak operating hours. Those acres of concrete, of course, would sit idle much of the time, but we’d still have to pay for them, and handling rain and salt-infused snow runoff from roadways of that size would present MnDOT with a whole new set of unheard-of challenges.

    What the GOP opposes is regional cooperation. Instead, they apparently favor the Minnesota version of St. Louis County, Missouri, where 96 municipalities (plus others in neighboring counties) almost never agree on anything, or the Minnesota version of the Denver Regional Council of Governments, which lacks the power and authority of the Met Council, and is therefore frequently ignored by self-serving municipalities in its jurisdiction.

    In short, what seems to be happening here is that the GOP is taking the corporate mindset – that is, short-term gain over long-term prosperity, Ayn Rand selfishness on a municipal scale over cooperation that would benefit everyone, including the selfish, and attempting to apply it in regional terms. Just as Ayn Rand was a delusional sociopath whose prescription for society would be disastrous, so, too, is the mostly-unformed GOP “plan” for replacing the Met Council with what came before – every municipality for itself. Electing representatives from the 16 Met Council districts simply subjects each of those 16 representatives to the kinds of parochial and selfish pressures now endured by individuals at virtually every level of local and county government. That’s not a formula for future success, nor is it possible to make rational plans for an indeterminate future if those plans have to take a back seat to current political fashion.

    I’m not always a fan of Met Council decisions myself, but that’s part of the point. The rationale for a body like the Met Council is that it’s not possible to please every citizen, or every political entity, all of the time. The task is to look out for the welfare of the region as a whole, and not just until the next election cycle.

    Gasoline will not remain at its current level of under $3/gallon for decades to come. The automobile will not always be the dominant mode of transit. We can’t afford, and don’t want to deal with the environmental consequences of, tripling the size of area highways in order to accommodate even more cars. If the region is to prosper and approach genuine sustainability, both socially and economically, we have to look beyond the near-term horizon. That’s the Met Council’s job.

  3. Submitted by Todd Adler on 10/17/2014 - 07:40 pm.

    Met Council

    I was going to write a passage about the Met Council, but after reading Ray’s post I have nothing more to add.

    We’ll said!

  4. Submitted by jody rooney on 10/17/2014 - 09:08 pm.

    Can we nominate Mr. Schoch

    for a seat on the council? He is so sensible.

  5. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/18/2014 - 09:59 am.

    Transportation and planning

    Mr. Schoch has well summed up my thoughts as well.

    One more thing though: the Met Council retains legal and fiscal control over local municipal land use planning through approval of comprehensive plans and sewer and water extensions. The law has never tied these things to expansion of public transit, especially light rail. The suburbs today were specifically designed around automobile ownership and “automobility” . Virtually no consideration was given to walking, biking or bus use, say to get to work or a store. Is it any wonder so few people walk or ride bikes to go places in the ‘burbs? It would make more sense if suburban expansion in places like Lake Elmo were tied to extending the light rail to Stillwater so if you have to live there, you wouldn’t have to own or drive a car.

  6. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 10/20/2014 - 08:39 am.

    Met Counsel is Too MSP Centric…and Political

    What’s crazy is that business interested MUST be taken into account. The Met needs to ensure that people have vibrant places to live; create a climate the entices business to start, grow, and thrive; give the easiest way for these companies to move their goods or provide their services; and also make ways of getting people to work as easy as possible.

    The Met is way, way, way to Minneapolis and St. Paul centric. It’s as if the downtowns are the only places of light and should be THE places to only be. The Met makes outlooks that are obsolete by the time they are implemented. They base their transportation needs on the failing eternal belief that every road (or rail) goes downtown.

    Add to it that their rail lines have all been much, much more costly to the tax payer than ever proposed (have you ever seen the choo choo come under budget???) and that the taxpayer is forced to subsidize more than 50% of all riders so they are not even close to operating on their own. Look at Northstar – that thing has been a boondooggle since it’s inception and it did not even have to build the tracks.

    Top if off that these people on the Met are appointed and not voted on. They are given taxing authority that not one voter has the right of being represented and thus no say.

    So let’s stop with the tired anti-GOP politics that it’s business first mentality. The Met is a group of people right now that does not take the whole metro area in mind with their decision making. And that’s not right and it’s good some people, just happens to be the GOP right now, stand up and say something.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 10/20/2014 - 09:18 am.

      GOP has no interest

      In improving the metro for any entity but big business. When did a road operate on its own? This continued GOP idea that a road does not cost big money to build and does not cost big money to be repaired every 5 years or less is just ridiculous! Even the new 35W bridge has deficiencies already thanks mostly to a deficient governor who pushed a CO builder with the highest bid and the ugliest look.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 10/20/2014 - 04:14 pm.

      Maybe it’s me

      but I find it pretty hard to seriously consider the opinion of someone who refers to a system of mass transit that 32 other US cities have embraced as a “choo choo.”

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