Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Could Southwest Light Rail decide who controls the Minnesota Legislature?

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
House Speaker Kurt Daudt has stated the light rail issue will be tough for Democrats to defend on the campaign trail this fall.

In mid-August, after negotiations over whether to call a special session of the Minnesota Legislature broke down, Kurt Daudt came out swinging. 

The Republican Speaker of the Minnesota House emerged from a closed-door meeting with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Democrats and blamed them for the impasse. Democrats wanted a deal to fund the state’s share of the 14.5-mile Southwest Light Rail Line in Minneapolis before they agreed to deal with a bonding bill, tax bill and package of transportation projects that failed to pass during regular session. But Daudt wouldn’t agree to any deal that included the light rail project, which he said is unpopular across the state.

“Minnesotans can see very clearly why we’re not getting $700 million in road and bridge money and $550 million worth of tax relief, and it’s because the governor and metro Democrats aren’t getting Southwest light rail, period,” Daudt said. “I’m not the one walking away from the table right now.”

The light rail issue, Daudt added, will be tough for Democrats to defend on the campaign trail this fall, when all 201 House and Senate seats are on the ballot.

Some Republicans are counting on it. 

Two months from election day, the issue is emerging as a top talking point in Republican legislative campaigns, with GOP candidates likening it to the Senate Office Building, a project they made into a central theme of the 2014 race. The $90 million building, inserted into the 2013 tax bill by a DFL-controlled Legislature, was used by House Republicans as the symbol of what they said were rampant tax-and-spend liberal policies in St. Paul. They sent out mailers and did radio and television spots calling it a “luxury” office building. By most accounts, it worked: Republicans picked up 11 seats in 2014 and won back the majority in the House.

With the party trying to maintain its House majority and pick up Republican seats in the Senate this fall, GOP operatives think Southwest Light Rail could have a similar effect, particularly in battleground seats in Greater Minnesota.

“It’s really representative of what one party control could lead to,” said John Rouleau, an operative with Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a conservative-aligned outside campaign spending group. It’s similar to the office building in that sense. When the DFL was in control they wasted money, the metro was prioritized and the rural area was left behind. It’s representative of an overarching message, the fact that 14 miles of a train to them was more important than the largest influx of money into roads and bridges in a very long time.”

It’s also an issue both sides have done polling on, though no one wants to reveal exactly what their research says. In broad terms, Republicans say polling shows voters think Democrats and Dayton overplayed their hand on Southwest LRT, squandering road and bridge funding over the project. Democrats say their research shows that the Republican messaging on light rail doesn’t overcome the glaring fact that they campaigned in 2014 on passing a long-term transportation funding — and failed to get anything done.  

Joe Davis
Joe Davis

“We don’t think the average Minnesotan is interested in assigning blame for a legislative negotiation,” said Joe Davis, executive director of Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a campaign spending group that’s aligned with the DFL. “[Republicans] campaigned on fixing roads and bridges and they couldn’t deliver on it.”

Democrats also say their research shows Minnesotans don’t equate light rail funding with projects like the Senate Office Building. In particular, light rail would have been paid for by metro-area residents, not taxpayers across the state.

Early proposals aimed to fund the state’s $135 million share of the $1.85 billion Southwest LRT project through a metro-area sales tax increase, a measure that was linked to a broader package of road and bridge funding. But talks over a long-term transportation funding solution broke down, and a one-time transportation deal blew up in the final minutes of session — over whether or not light rail was included. Finally, just last week, the Metropolitan Council, the Counties Transit Improvement Board and the Hennepin County Board voted to make legal commitments to cover the state’s share of the funding. That allows them to move ahead and apply for federal funding for the project, even without a special session. 

“With the office building, they made the case that everyone was paying for it. You can’t really make that case with this situation,” said Zach Rodvold, who works for the House DFL caucus. “The options on the table were all local funding options, Hennepin County and the metro area. That’s where I think they are trying to connect the dots they can’t connect.”

Zach Rodvold
Zach Rodvold

“Campaigning on gridlock seems to be their whole campaign strategy, and that’s not a very good idea,” Rodvold added. “Send us back and you’ll get two more years of this? I don’t think that’s a good message for most people.” 

But both sides agree on one thing: They don’t know where light rail and issue-focused campaigns fit into a presidential election year. As a general rule, local issues and candidates have a harder time rising above the noise of a presidential race, but that’s especially true in 2016, with the race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton proving particularly distracting for voters. What’s more, there’s no statewide race on the ballot this year helping to focus local elections on local issues.

“I think there’s less oxygen and less time available for people to be thinking about politics,” Davis said. “Even during a non-presidential year, once you really get into a process and the details or passing blame for how things went, people start to tune that out. The main takeaway is that people are much more concerned with getting something done.” 

Comments (56)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/08/2016 - 11:37 am.

    I think Minnesotan’s can see…

    That republicans lost over a billion dollars worth of tax cuts and road spending in order to block $150 million project. Yeah, that was a bad deal, we still got the $150 million and they didn’t get their $1.5 billion. And one can’t help but notice that the majority of Minnesotan’s live in the metro area, which is why we can fund our projects without the legislator if we have to, we get our transit and they go home empty handed. Just another example of how republicans are failing their constituents and driving themselves into oblivion. They turned a do-nothing legislative session into a do even less session just because they don’t like choo choos.

    And don’t forget, republicans started out claiming that we only needed $300 million for roads and bridged, Dayton and the Democrats got them up to $700 million (in fact we actually need twice that to bring our system up to date). They could have had their tax cuts and more than they wanted for roads but they refused to even consider funding SWLRT.

    • Submitted by Alan Straka on 09/08/2016 - 07:14 pm.

      If, in fact, the metro area can fund the transit project without the legislature, why didn’t the Dems drop the SouthWest project from the bill and allow the bonding for the roads to go ahead? Those of us who live outstate are tired of getting taxed for projects that mainly benefit the metro area, leaving us little in return. We are quite happy to let you fund your local transit projects all by yourself. If you can do it without our tax dollars, more power to you.

      • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 09/09/2016 - 09:00 am.

        You do realize…

        You do realize that one of the proposals before the legislature wouldn’t have, in fact, used your (outstate) taxes to build SWLRT. Because of the paternalistic “Minnesota Miracle,” which generally takes urban dollars to subsidize outstate and exurban spending, local governments such as Hennepin County are unable to levy certain taxes to spend on their own desires. The proposal would have allowed Hennepin County to spend money on a Hennepin County train. You know, local control and local spending. We *did* want to do it without your tax dollars, and Car Salesman Daudt didn’t like it. And your roads (which are subsidized by the metro, google “Map of the Day: State Highway Taxes vs. State Highway Spending”) were held hostage because Daudt didn’t like the idea of a local government paying for their own local train.

  2. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 09/08/2016 - 11:50 am.

    Local government

    OK, House Republicans don’t like light rail and don’t want to pay for it, even though they expect a Democratic Senate and Governor to fund Republican priorities that Democrats are lukewarm or opposed to. Just the sort of double standard we have learned to expect from Republicans. And they will gladly give up a billion dollars in federal transportation assistance and waste an investment to more than $125 million in order to gain short term political advantage. I guess that could be viewed as just another creative use of public campaign financing.

    However, how do they presume to talk constantly about local control, but be horrified with local government in the metro area comes up with funding to continue to build a modern metro transit system which the Twin Cities needs to stay competitive? So why should rural legislators have anything to say about purely local projects outside of their party of the state.

    The metro area has most of the population of the state. Do they want the legislature micromanaging decisions in rural units of government? Either we let local governments take care of local government issues, or we create a situation where the needs of rural areas are made in the metro area. Rural Republicans – hands off purely metro issues. If you choose to provide no funding to metro projects, it is no longer your business if metro government funds it.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/08/2016 - 04:16 pm.

      Modern day GOP legislators across the nation have reconsidered local control. This may be a philosophical change, or it could be because in states with GOP dominated legislatures cities are passing ordinances like a higher minimum wage and mandatory sick leave as well as other laws anathema to conservatives.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 09/14/2016 - 01:38 pm.

        Local Control

        The whole “local control” is just the reason du jure used by Republicans to get what they want, which is more power and more money. If you counter the local control argument, as the Twin Cities did on light rail, they just come up with some other argument to throw your way. Counter that new argument and the process simply repeats itself.

        There are a couple of reasons the GOP is against LRT. One is that it’s simply politics. If you’re for it, they’re against it. Their strategy is to create an us vs them situation, to polarize voters and draw their base to the polls. That’s why you see items like the marriage amendment and bathroom bills, although they didn’t count on the effort backfiring.

        The other reason they oppose LRT is because they have donors who are developers. Every dime spent on a rail is a dime that can’t be spent on a new sewer hookup in the suburbs. Never mind that the Met Council has money to do both–it’s just not enough money in the back pockets for the developers and therefor the GOP.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/08/2016 - 12:38 pm.

    It Becomes Increasingly Clear

    that EVERYTHING the Republicans do while serving in the legislature,…

    completely sidesteps their responsibility to govern in responsible ways,…

    ways that serve the interests of their constituents,…

    and the state of Minnesota in general.

    The only thing they care about is creating hot button campaign issues on which to run.

    I can’t help but wonder how long my fellow citizens out here in Greater Minnesota will continue to elect these Republicans,…

    who NEVER ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING on our behalf,…

    then try to win our votes again based on whatever smokescreen issues they’ve been able to gin up by screwing up the legislative process (again).

  4. Submitted by Eric Roberts on 09/08/2016 - 02:02 pm.

    When they’re complaining about LRT, ask the GOP…

    …if they agree with Trump’s assertion that Vladimir Putin is a better leader than Barack Obama. Or whether they agree that our generals should be fired and our military is in complete ruins.

    They want to make this election about the train because of the disaster that got to the top of their ticket. Don’t let the voters forget who they’ll be answering to.

  5. Submitted by Mike Downing on 09/08/2016 - 02:08 pm.

    Dayton & Bakk blocked the Tax Bill & Bonding Bill

    Dayton pocket vetoed the Tax Bill for a one word mistake in the large Bill. He knew that there are always mistakes in large Omnibus Bills and historically are handled with a simple letter from the appropriate committee chair. I this case Rep Greg Davids issued such a letter but Dayton saw political leverage and acted like a child not passing the Tax Bill for MN taxpayers, veterans, etc.

    The House & the Senate reached an agreement on the Bonding Bill and the House passed it as agreed to. A last minute amendment in the Senate added SWLRT to the agreed to Bill. Sen Bakk simply could not control his DFL caucus to the agreement he had with the House. Hence the fiasco caused by Dayton & Bakk.

    Revisionist history by Dayton & Bakk should not be accepted by the voters this November.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/08/2016 - 03:32 pm.

      Revisionist history indeed

      Dayton pocket vetoed for several reasons, one being that republicans pulled SWLRT funding out of the bonding bill.

      The republicans then refused to agree to any special session as long as restoring the SWLRT funding was a necessary condition. Republicans killed the special session, Dayton and the Democrats would have been more than happy to work out a one day session that fixed the wording (by the way, bad wording and no time to fix it is what happens when you’re incompetent at governing and wait till the last minute) and provide the tax cuts and funding that had been agreed upon. It was the republicans that drew the line in the sand over SWLRT and refused to negotiate.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/08/2016 - 05:01 pm.


      Please tell me the legal authority for a letter by a legislative committee chair correcting language in an enrolled bill, especially when that correction would make a substantive change to the bill.

      Minor errors in a bill may be corrected by the Revisor, but that rule applies only to minor clerical errors. The “one word mistake in the large Bill” here resulted in a significant change to the operation of the law.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/08/2016 - 03:36 pm.

    What’s interesting kind of…

    Republicans not only refuse to enter into good faith negotiations, they actually don’t seem to know what a negotiation is. They seem to think that providing a list of demands, and being able to veto anything the don’t like, or otherwise dictate outcomes is a negotiation. That’s fine… when you don’t actually need to negotiate, but if and when you can’t dictate outcomes you need to negotiate.

    The question is will they learn or will they just sink further into oblivion and irrelevancy.

  7. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 09/08/2016 - 03:40 pm.

    Light rail will be going away.

    So no rational reason to invest in it. Take the money and invest in experimental self-driving car systems that cover the same route. Cheaper and easier to build, vehicles can be tested for reliability, simple to add/remove vehicles, and there is far less whining by everyone. Once the self-driving car becomes accepted, the vehicles can be used on the streets as a public taxi fleet–replacing many commuter cars with one vehicle. It would also eliminate the need for a lot of parking downtown, freeing up the extremely valuable land for more productive use. The same would happen with major shopping centers with lots of parking. They would not need as much parking, so they could build more stores/restaurants and thus generate more revenue in general (of all types–sales tax, payroll, real estate, etc).

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 09/08/2016 - 03:59 pm.

      Self driving cars’ fatal flaw

      They are still cars.

      Yes, they are marginally better than the status quo, the majority of adults owning cars that they use sparingly, and the average of six subsidized parking spaces for each of those cars, and the hostile, auto-oriented land use we’ve built to accommodate mobility at the scale of cars rather than the scale of humans. As you note, self-driving cars could reduce parking demand.

      But. They are still cars. They still require a land use designed at car scale. They still require far more energy per unit of mass to move (inefficient). They are still, at this time, largely centered around the internal combustion engine, meaning they are not fuel-agnostic and they are significant point-source polluters in our urban areas. And, most importantly, they simply take up far too much space per user to effectively move the volumes of humans who want to move in our increasingly-popular urban areas.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 09/14/2016 - 02:16 pm.

      Drive Yourself

      Self-driving cars are a wonderful idea and I can’t wait for them to see the light of day. If and when they get adopted they’ll be a boon to driving as they’ll take the weakest link out of the system: humans.

      But you’re looking at a long time before they’re perfected and ready for the market. The Google car can only travel on a few roads that have been thoroughly mapped out in advance. Add a new element like a stop light that hasn’t been coded yet and it completely ignores it. Kids in the street and rain also mess with the system.

      Even once all the bugs are worked out and the cars hit the market, you’re still looking at a good twenty years to get substantial market acceptance and saturation. Someone who bought a 2020 conventional car isn’t likely to turn around and grab a 2021 self-driving car. She’s going to hang onto her new car for at least a few years before getting a new on.

      With all that, It can easily be another thirty years before self-driving cars get that market penetration you so crave. In the meantime, we have to deal with the situation we have today and do what we can to improve our transportation situation. And for the foreseeable future that means trains.

      Even once self-driving cars are all over the place, you’ll still want trains as they’re more efficient at moving masses of people than putting one person in one tin can at a time.

  8. Submitted by William Anderson on 09/08/2016 - 03:59 pm.

    Throw out the “D” in DFL

    The process the DFL employed to force SWLRT shows the party has tossed over the “democratic” in their name.

    The project was so incredibly badly planned in Minneapolis by Hennepin County and the Met Council that they had to resort to political force and funding coercion to get municipal consent. Betsy Hodges called the alignment “a fundamental failure of fairness” when she voted “no” and then was humiliated in a closed door meeting with the Met Council. Dayton threatened to defund the MPRB if it pursued its legal obligation and right under federal law to preserve parkland.

    After both houses of the legislature clawed back $30 million in SWLRT funding last year after $300 million more in engineering “surprises” were revealed, the Met Council began to resort to COPs. At that time the Met Council publicly promised, promised, not to build SWLRT with COPS and stated it would not proceed without legislative approval. This summer when the DFL found it could not obtain legislative approval for SWLRT it determined the only “solution” was to break its public promise. Outrageous behavior from a party, any party, but especially a party that has “democratic” in its name and is supposed to be “liberal” or “progressive.”

    If Republicans had followed a similar process to force one of their priorities they would be widely perceived as out of control, with fear, and as if on the verge of dictatorship.

  9. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 09/08/2016 - 04:01 pm.

    Keep in mind, the GOP wasn’t even objecting to state spending. They were objecting to allowing Hennepin County or other local governments to raise or use their own tax receipts for their own transportation priorities. This wouldn’t have even been funded with state dollars, and Daudt still objected. They supported paternalism imposed by the legislature on local governments, and they opposed local control.

  10. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 09/08/2016 - 04:10 pm.

    Game theory explains it all, whatever happens, and the voters must decide how they want to win or lose. Will they continue to vote in the Republican Party of spite to one body of the Legislature or the executive? Will they go with the ‘all me all of the time’ folks found in either party? Will they vote for folks who make a deal and get’er done? Go for the big win of questionable goals at long odds, for the cooperation we once had, or for the spiteful disfunction we have endured for far too long?

    Minnesotans had a long history of cooperation in the Legislature that pretty much died with the the rise of Tim Pawlenty, his buds, and eventual administration with the final transformation of Minnesota Republicans into radical conservative ideologues from the special sort of moderates they once were when we could count on the Legislature to at least come through with the bare essentials of what the state needed.

    We used to fund every essential need of the state in every county of the state, now we struggle to make the bare essentials happen because we have ‘do nothing bluster’ in lieu of governance from one party and SWLRT is but one in a long litany of needed infrastructure projects around the state that Republicans have tried to kill.

    Once, and not so long ago, I went anywhere in this state and found people that I knew and loved; going some places in the state today, I just don’t know anymore and feel something very un-Minnesotan in some Republican majority districts.

    This is far bigger than one project to expand one route of one mode in a regional transportation system that should have been completed a decade ago. This is about whether folks win elections to stand firm as a roadblock (the spite) or to go to work to get things done for the whole state (the cooperation).

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/09/2016 - 08:06 am.

      Game theory…

      The dirty secret about game theory, like so many other mathematical miracles, is that while it’s a great story it doesn’t actually work. If we had a theory with the predictive powers that game theory claims to have, we wouldn’t have had the majority of economic crises and catastrophes that we’ve seen over the last several decades.

      Aside from that, Mr. Kahn’s comment is spot on.

  11. Submitted by John Appelen on 09/08/2016 - 11:09 pm.

    Help me Understand

    So Dayton blocked a big bonding bill, transportation funding and a tax cut because the House would not pass a transit bill that as it turned out was not needed?

    I mean the local governmental entities found a way to do the deal without anything from the GOP / State. As they should. So please help me understand why everyone here is not angry at the Democrats? Was all this “must pass bill or SW Light Rail will die” just political theater to make the GOP look bad?

    Please remember that for fiscal Conservatives like me, not taking out more debt that my kids will need to pay back is fine. So other than the taxes still being high, I don’t see any downside for the GOP. And they will lay those continuing high taxes right at the feet of the DFL and the Light Rail stunt.

    This will be interesting !!! Thanks Briana !!!

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/09/2016 - 09:08 am.

    It really would be nice…

    If people who haven’t taken the time to understand the rationale and facts behind transit building would stop declaring themselves as masters of reality. Furthermore, the fact that you don’t like something or it conflicts with your mentality doesn’t make it an irrational boondoggle. We just had a pretty thorough recital of the LR debate in other article about SWLRT here on different Minnpost article: Suffice to say anti-railer’s are just whining about their taxes again.

    One fact that anti-choo chooer’s always miss is that in a democracy, for the most part, you to have a constituency in order to pursue a policy. The fact is SWLRT and LR transit projects have a large and growing constituency on federal, state, country, and city levels. The narrative that a handful of train enthusiasts has rammed this down everyone’s throat is simply another repubican/libertarian fantasy scenario. Every city along the line, including republican leaning Eden Prairie has not only endorsed SWLRT but they’ve put millions of their own dollars on the line in planning and development. The federal money exists because there is a nation wide constituency and recognition that American cities need to build transit options… that’w why there’s a list of LR projects we don’t want to fall off of.

    The problem with the mentality that currently dominates the republican/libertarian leadership is that it’s driven by dystopian fantasy rather than evidence or reason. This mentality is part magical thinking, and part toxic sociopathic. It’s magical thinking in the sense that the assumption is that no planning or policy is actually necessary, growth and prosperity are magical entities that float around and manifest themselves as long as we keep cutting taxes and don’t grow government.

    This mentality is sociopathic in that it takes an adolescent: “You’re not the boss of me” declaration to toxic heights. This notion that any taxpayer or their like minded politicians should be able to veto any project they don’t like not only violates the very premise of democracy, it makes civilization and impossible objective. I don’t know what they’re doing with County Rd. 101 out in Minnetonka between 394 and Minnetonka Blvd., but it’s taken about two years and I know no one ever asked me as a taxpayer whether or not not I support it. It looks like they built a new road and bridge but they had a perfectly good road and bridge already as far as know. The difference I’m not whining about my taxes, I wouldn’t veto the 101 project even if I could. Yet that’s exactly how republicans think we should run things, and that’s why whenever republicans are given a chance run things it literally falls apart. Remember Kiffmeyer’s plan to have the contractors front the money for the 35W – 62 interchange? Yah, that was sooooooooo innovative. Whatever.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/09/2016 - 10:07 am.

      Toxic Sociopathic

      So somebody who disagrees with your position and uses political methods to block that position is Sociopathic?

      Does this same concept apply when people work to block tax cuts, right to work, accountability in our public education system, etc?

      I have a different view… This is Democracy a work… It may be messy, inefficient, etc but it is the best system of it’s kind !!! God Bless America !!!

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/10/2016 - 10:44 am.

    Toxic sociopaths are people too

    A lot of very nice people disagree with each other all the time, that doesn’t make us all sociopaths. In politics we have a concept of: “loyal opposition”. The idea is that while we may disagree and fight for different agendas, we recognize that governance isn’t a game to be won or lost, and winning elections doesn’t make us dictators. The “loyalty” part is about recognizing that we are communities in a nation working towards a common “good” despite our differences. The “loyalty” is for the democratic process.

    Sociopaths have no coherent concept of “community”, in fact they tend to classify communities as agents of oppression and may even find the notion of being loyal to something other than themselves or their own mentality nearly incomprehensible if not outright immoral. For Libertarians this is actually a philosophy of selfishness pretending to be a fight for liberty. While reactionary republicans share some libertarian disgust for communal governance; they also have an inclination to deploy the levers of government as mechanisms of dictatorial power. In essence neither libertarians or reactionary republicans can actually believe in democracy. Rather they tend to view democracy and citizenship itself as form of oppression that requires they submit to the will of the people rather than their own interests. Democracy is great as long as they get what they want or believe in, but it’s oppression by the majority otherwise. In other words the “republicans” in question don’t want to participate in the democratic process, they want to capture it and use it towards their own ends, which of course is a fundamentally undemocratic impulse.

    The absence of “loyalty” to the democratic process makes bipartisan progress nearly impossible. We used to have bipartisan progress despite disagreements but in recent decades bipartisan progress has collapsed into partisan gridlock as “toxic sociopathy” has ascended to power within the republican party.

    Now I should clarify that when I talk about “sociopaths” I’m describing an intellectual tendency, not labeling individuals as sociopaths per se. This is a socio-political analysis not a psychological profile. Obviously personality traits present across a continuum among individuals and aren’t determined political affiliation.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/10/2016 - 11:24 pm.


      Of course I disagree, I believe almost all people believe this. “Democracy is great as long as they get what they want or believe in, but it’s oppression by the majority otherwise.”

      I mean look at how unhappy the Liberals were/are when States did not support LGBT rights.
      Or when States believe in a flatter tax code, rather than the highly progressive one they prefer.
      Or when the Democracy decided that welfare needed to be reformed…

      As I repeatedly note, for ~100 years the Liberals have been striving to pull our country towards being a Northern European Social Democracy. (ie 7% of GDP to 37% of GDP) Now they have pulled the rubber band tight enough that the tension has increased. So of course an increasing number of citizens are becoming resistant and people are pulling back harder.

      As I often ask, how many percent of your paycheck are you willing to give to the government so they can distribute it as they deem correct? You know my number is 33%… I truly think the government and our public employees should be able to fulfill their assigned duties for 1/3 of our country’s GDP. That leaves 2/3rds for families to use as they wish. Or do you think the politicians/bureaucrats can make better spending decisions than us individuals?

  14. Submitted by Jim Roth on 09/11/2016 - 09:01 am.

    Long ago and far away people and parties put aside their differences and enacted the Minnesota Miracle in 1971. Is it so quaint and far-fetched to think that it should be possible to arrive at reasonable compromise in 2016-17?

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/11/2016 - 09:58 am.


    John Appelen says:

    “Of course I disagree, I believe almost all people believe this: “Democracy is great as long as they get what they want or believe in, but it’s oppression by the majority otherwise.”

    Thank for confirming that this mentality isn’t just a figment of my imagination. I would suggest to the readers at large that this isn’t just the view of one guy on this comment thread, as I’ve already stated.

    I would point out however that contrary to John’s assumption many Americans believe in the democratic process despite the fact that it doesn’t always deliver what each of us wants and sometimes delivers stuff we as individuals don’t want. We don’t in fact considers ourselves victims of tyranny (Tyranny of the masses) every time a vote doesn’t go our way. This is the difference between the loyal opposition I’ve described, and the “disloyal” opposition we see among reactionary republicans/tea party/libertarians. I don’t want subsidized stadiums and nobody asked me about paying for a County Rd. 101 rebuild but I’m not going to shut down government or try to disnenfranchise any voters in order to stop them being built. Sure, we’re not always “happy”, but that doesn’t mean we’re being crushed under the oppressive heal of the masses.

    As for the movement towards “liberalism”, yes, I frequently point out that the best way to get your head around the republican agenda is to accept the fact that they want to repeal the 20th century.

    The government/tax percentage thing struggles to but never attains economic coherence because A.) We know our system works better than the Somali model. And B). All this “spending” the government does is the product of a democratic process. Our “government” isn’t some independent entity beyond our control that collects taxes and spends money in a separate economy.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/11/2016 - 04:09 pm.

      Victims and Chaos

      I think this must be a matter of perspective, as long as I have been paying attention / blogging, it seems the Liberals have maintained a continuous narrative that most Americans are victims of a relatively corrupt government and the companies / wealthy people who supposedly have paid for it.

      Please also remember that it takes a conscience choice by 2 parties to shut down a government. Either side can sweeten the pot and get things moving again.

      As for the ideal “% of GDP” target, I guess I have not heard of any politician who wants to “repeal the 20th century”. Please remember that would reduce our spend to ~7% from our current ~37%. Personally I think most Americans would be happy if we could get back to 30% in good times and ~36% during recessions. This should be pretty easy to do if we actually held our politicians accountable for reducing the complexity and size of the governmental bureaucracy, and paying down the debt. And just think how happy people would be to have some more money to use as they wish.

      Now I know you like to scare folks with the Somalia comparison. And yet I have to ask if you thought the USA in 1907 was a lawless state fulled with chaos and murder? If so I must have missed that when watching Little House on the Prairie…

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/12/2016 - 09:39 am.


        ” And yet I have to ask if you thought the USA in 1907 was a lawless state fulled with chaos and murder? If so I must have missed that when watching Little House on the Prairie…”

        1907? And you claim you don’t know anyone who wants to repeal the 20th century. Yes the “Little House On The Prairie” TV show has always been known for it’s historical accuracy. Not. Try reading the book sometime, it documents a harsh and grueling life riddled with depression and despair that Laura was desperately trying to escape.

        The problem with this 30% GDP thing is that it’s not based on any serious economic theories or observations, it’s just made up. What I can tell you with absolute certainty behind an avalanche of facts and data is that the quality of life for the vast majority of Americans has improved dramatically since 1907, along with the government share of the GDP. In general worldwide the higher the government – GDP ratio the higher the standard of living. Forget Somalia if you want, look at Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, etc. This has always been the problem with the libertarian/republican economic model; they can’t point to a country anywhere using their model that’s more prosperous than liberal democracies with “big” guvments and whenever they get a chance to impose their models in this country that create fiasco’s. So of course when anyone tries to extrapolate from this model and make arguments about something like SWLRT it’s pretty much a non-starter.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/12/2016 - 06:26 pm.

          The Best Example

          I have the absolutely best example. The USA !!!

          We have without doubt the most powerful, influential and desirable country in the world for most people. We have enough money and power to care for our own and serve as a global policeman And this was created for the most part at the ~30% or less spend level.

          And yet many think we should try to model other countries who have been much less successful and/or helpful to other countries. Remember my pendulum belief, somewhere around 33% seems to be the sweet spot. It encourages people to work hard and it allows us to help the unfortunate. Over that and countries seem to start having challenges…

          • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 09/13/2016 - 01:03 pm.

            Two comments

            1.) Countries under the 33% don’t have challenges?

            2.) In many ways, what you spend it on is more important than just how much. And, as a corollary, what you cut is often more important that just how much. Because if you cut the wrong stuff, you can have a tidy (by your weird standard) budget but be far worse off.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/13/2016 - 09:44 pm.


              I agree the government can spend unwisely no matter how much or how little they appropriate from society’s private sector.

              And as money is added to the government coffers, there is a very real likelihood based on our history that the money will be used less effectively than when individuals get to keep it and use it as they see most effective.

              And worse yet, sometimes the government rewards/ subsidizes individual/group behaviors that are counter productive to keeping America globally competitive and successful. Which will be unfortunate for all Americans over time.

              Same old question… If you have an extra $1,0000 in the bank… What would you do to ensure it was spent/invested wisely? Keep it and choose what to do with it? Give it to charity? Or send it to the government / bureaucrats?

              I guess I don’t know anyone who would give the government extra money because they would use it most effectively. Buffett and Gates knew better and they are 2 of the smartest American citizens.

              • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2016 - 09:03 am.

                Uh huh…

                And both Gates AND Buttet are endorsing Hillary Clinton.

                This idea of “giving” the government “extra” money completely misunderstands the nature of our government. One of he problems with those who don’t believe in democracy is that they never really understand how it works in terms of the basic nuts and bolts.

                Government budgets are determined by legislation, ALL spending is statutory. In other words, the legislation comes first, the spending, taxing, etc. follows… not the other way around. We don’t “give” the government extra money, the government collects tax revenue to pay for expenses that are created via legislation. Surpluses when they exist, are not simply a matter of “over-taxing” and surpluses aren’t spent by bureaucrats as they see fit. ALL spending is dictated by statute and bureaucrats have no statutory authority beyond budgeting the money they’re given to spend. Logic dictates that if government bureaucrats spent all the “extra” money, there would never be a surplus.

                • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/14/2016 - 10:05 am.

                  Good Example

                  Dayton and the Democrats unnecessarily raised taxes on Minnesotans a few years ago. Which generated a substantial surplus. Instead of lowering taxes again and letting the citizens of MN decide where to spend their money, they started to look for new programs and services that could be created that would require long term funding. (ie which would cause deficits in the next down business cycle)

                  The nice thing about Democracy is that there are 2 sides to it. People like yourself who think the government can save, invest, spend a persons money more effectively and wisely than the citizens can. And people like the Conservatives who believe the citizens can save, invest, spend a persons money more effectively and wisely than the government can.

                  Personally I am happy these 2 groups are at odds and we keep the pendulum somewhat balanced. And after a 100 years of the shift towards more government control and less personal control, I am happy the Conservative have started pulling harder.

                  Here is a new graph that shows the same disturbing long term trend.

                  • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2016 - 11:14 am.


                    Government funding is a complex issue. Surpluses don’t mean that taxpayers have been over-charged or that new taxes aren’t necessary. For instance if you want something that’s going to cost $5 and you have a surplus of $2 you still need $3 more dollars.

                    In democracies we decide what we want the government to do, and then we figure out how to pay for it. The government ends up being as “large” as it needs to be to do the stuff we want it to do. The idea that we should cap government revenue based on some notion of a percentage of GDP participation ends up being economically incoherent.

                    With public policy it’s always better to have a surplus problem than a deficit problem. Surpluses are question of allocations etc. Deficits are perpetual crises and gridlock,which is what republican politicians and ideologues want, but constituents are rather tired and frustrated with.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/14/2016 - 03:11 pm.

                      Surplus, Deficit, Purposes

                      Surplus/ Cash Reserves: Government is holding cash that private households could be holding or spending.

                      Deficit: Often tied to a recession, excellent time for government to use short term borrowing since they have excellent credit scores and can borrow at very low rates.

                      Would anyone here actually hire a contractor without a firm estimate as to what their service is going to cost, what quality will be provided, etc?

                      Why would citizens set government’s roles without cost, quality, performance, scope, etc targets?

                    • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 09/14/2016 - 04:15 pm.


                      The legislative branch passes a budget with authorizes certain spending every year (both in terms of “how much” and “on what”). So to say there aren’t any targets is nonsense.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/14/2016 - 05:11 pm.

                      Good Point

                      I was replying to Paul’s open ended comment.

                      “In democracies we decide what we want the government to do, and then we figure out how to pay for it. The government ends up being as “large” as it needs to be to do the stuff we want it to do.”

                      I do agree that government does set budgets, but I think they are pretty weak on setting measurable performance reqts or holding the bureaucracy accountable for meeting the goals. In large part because many in the DFL party seem to believe as Paul does.

                      Just decide what you want them to do and keep giving them money until they succeed or you run out of money. I wonder how that work for building a new home… I tell the contractor they have $200K to build me a home, 6 mths later the home is half finished and the money is gone… The contractor says just give me another $200K and I am sure I will be able to nail it…

                    • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 09/15/2016 - 11:35 am.


                      Can you provide examples of Republicans doing a better job of managing the bureaucracy? Because I can think of lots of examples where they didn’t…

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/13/2016 - 01:06 pm.

    Article about re-urbanizing America

    In other discussions some of us have pointed out certain demographic and social trends (i.e. turning away from the suburban trend) that make projects like the SWLRT a good idea. Here’s a NYT’s article with related coverage:

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/13/2016 - 01:10 pm.

    Just a note about political consequences

    It’s important to remember at the end of the day that what matters is if the constituents win or lose, not whether or not a party wins or loses.

    Years ago the democrats were running the table and they could have funded SWLRT at the time but didn’t because they were afraid that “over-reach” would cost them elections. Then they lost anyways and we got stuck with this situation. Even if democrats lose something now, they’re going to lose sooner or later anyways because no one wins forever. What’s important is that the ball moves forward and necessary projects like this get done.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/13/2016 - 09:54 pm.

      Win or Lose

      That is an excellent point. The challenge is how to define win and lose?

      The SW LR being built means that ~30,000 citizens will have a reduced cost transportation option.

      It also means that all the citizens in the metro will be paying more in taxes to build the rail and subsidize it’s operation.

      Now what is win and what is lose?

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2016 - 08:52 am.

        Transit is a win

        For a variety reasons ranging from energy efficiency and affordable transportation, to economic development Transit systems are a “win” for the Metro area. Like almost everything else, from minimum wage employees on food stamps to anyone who relies on telecommunications or transportation of any kind, transit systems are subsidized by taxpayers. In fact transit is less subsidized because once built it collects fares on top of the subsidy. Drivers using the new 35W bridge pay no additional fee for using the bridge beyond their gas tax whereas those using transit pay a ticket fee in addition to the taxes they pay for the transit.

        At any rate we get a more affordable, diverse, robust, and efficient transportation system with the addition of Light Rail, in ADDITION to a variety of other benefits. Meanwhile the chief complaint (from those who are complaining) is that they’ll pay a few cents a year for something that they don’t think they’re ever going to use, as if they and they alone pay for ALL of the infrastructure they do use.

        • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 09/14/2016 - 02:35 pm.

          LRT Benefits

          An additional benefit of LRT is reduced pollution. 30,000 riders per day means 30,000 cars that aren’t on the road polluting. Add in the two existing lines and you’re looking at a heck of a lot of people who aren’t using an internal combustion engine for at least some of their trips.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/14/2016 - 03:45 pm.


          Since apparently most of the road and bridge work is financed through gas, license, property taxes, etc, the users are actually paying for the roads and bridges that they use or live on.

          Light rail seems to require a lot of funding by non-users. First all that funding to get it built. Then the continuous subsidy funding to encourage people to use the service.

          Whereas the 35W bridge is free to use, except for maintenance costs. The Light rail and bus systems cost more to operate than the ticket sales generated. Therefore the tax payers will need to invest to get SW LR built, and then spend ~$15 million per year to keep it running. (30,000 riders/day, 250 days/year, $2/rider/day subsidy)

          Since the subsidized buses are already running and some people commute together, the number of cars reduced will be much fewer than 30,000, but I agree that it is a benefit.

          Please remember that I see pros and cons to the proposal.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2016 - 08:19 am.

    Stereotypes ans simplisticity

    “And as money is added to the government coffers, there is a very real likelihood based on our history that the money will be used less effectively than when individuals get to keep it and use it as they see most effective.”

    This is stereotypical thinking based on private sector mythology. Suffice to say the Great depression AND the Great recession explode the myth of private sector efficiency. The banking sector is supposed to be the most efficient segment of the private economy and it completely blew itself up along the with the world economy… not for the first time I might add. You actually find far more abject failures and fiasco’s in the private sector than you do in the public sector. One of the problems with stereotypical thinking about government is that it ignores the fact that there are different types of governments and some governments are better and more efficient than others.

    In the end the problem with the stereotypical thinking and myth based rationales is that they have difficulty coping with real world scenarios and complexity. This is why those relying on such mentalities have sooooo much difficulty governing. It’s a coping strategy that implicitly relies on absurd reduction, all transportation policy can ever be about is whether or not it raises taxes or subsidizes something republicans don’t like. Routine governance blows up because republicans can’t cope with the complexity of funding one project they don’t like along with a billions dollars worth of projects they say they want.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/14/2016 - 03:22 pm.

      Personal Touch

      The question is:

      If a typical MN family had $1,000 /year extra because the State collected fewer taxes, kept less of a cash reserve, improved their effectiveness/ efficiency, etc. Could that family make a better choice of how to use the money than our politicians and bureaucrats?

      Personally I think they can.

  19. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2016 - 01:22 pm.

    Which reminds me…

    It’s important to remind ourselves once and while that gridlock is actually a deliberate republican policy. If they can’t roll “back” they figure stalling it is the next best policy. It’s not an accident or a product of partisanship, gridlock is the policy.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/14/2016 - 03:16 pm.

      Gridlock Takes 2

      Same point different day.

      Dayton and the DFL could have gotten almost everything passed this year, but they insisted that SW Transit be in the box. Even though we know now that it did not need to be. Maybe gridlock was a DFL tactic this year.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/15/2016 - 08:05 am.

        Takes 2?

        It’s funny that the party of “business” boys keeps making this claim that gridlock “takes two”. I mean wanting to run the government like a business is inherently problematic by why run it like a bad business? Anyone with a even a passing familiarity of human relationships, contracts, or cooperation knows that in any situation that requires agreement among two or more parties can be block by any one of the parties that refuses to agree. So no, it does not “take two” to produce gridlock. Any single necessary participant that refused to agree can block the process and create gridlock. Blocking a process and trying to blame the resulting gridlock on someone else is called: “duplicity” among other things.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/15/2016 - 11:13 am.

          I Guess You are Kind of Correct

          Dayton did veto the tax bill due to a typo.

          The DFL did block the transportation bill over SW Rail, even though State action really was not required.

          Sometimes the GOP insists on only a 3% / yr budget increase and the DFL insists on 4% neither is willing to give…

          I wonder when a customer and a car salesperson can not agree on a price and the sale falls through. Who is at fault for that?

          • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 09/15/2016 - 11:34 am.

            Kind of not correct

            Let’s point out that what happened over SWLRT was that the local authorities wanted to have the ability to raise their own taxes to pay for the remaining share of the line. So now, if no legislative action in 2017, those local authorities will use existing funding instead, which will take money away from other projects. So in other words, Kurt Daudt and the GOP (who frequently bray about local control), stomped all over it to have a campaign issue.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/15/2016 - 12:31 pm.

              Good Point

              But was it really worth stalling the whole transportation bill?

              • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 09/15/2016 - 12:47 pm.


                I may not be a Donald Trump-level negotiator, but leaving out the major transit portion of the bill left the DFL without any of its highest priorities (a long-term deal with dedicated road funding and SWLRT) and gave the GOP all of its priorities (one-time general fund money and no transit).

                • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/15/2016 - 04:53 pm.

                  Higher Regressive Taxes

                  Do you really think the GOP would have gotten everything they wanted?

                  I think they also wanted to secure more long term funding for road projects by transferring some of the other state revenues into the transportation bucket. (ie rental fees, etc) I think that was blocked by the DFL.

                  Please also remember that the DFL long term funding proposal was to raise a very regressive tax even higher. Probably not a good thing for the low and fixed income people in the State.

                  Please remember, there are almost no heroes or villains here. Just people representing their constituents. As they were elected to do.

                  • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 09/16/2016 - 08:59 am.


                    That transfer of general fund dollars to transportation would only last until the state runs its first deficit. At that point, legislators of both parties will grab that pool of money back so fast it will make your head spin.

                    The only way to assure long-term dedicated road funding is to raise the gas tax.

              • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/15/2016 - 01:55 pm.

                Apparently republicans thought it was worth stalling whole bill

                Until we funded SWLRT locally without them. They could have had all the stuff they wanted in the bill, but instead they killed it and SWLRT ended up getting funded anyways. Badly played republicans.

Leave a Reply