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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Transit Is Our Future

Category: Transportation
Posted: 05/20/16 22:41, Edited: 05/20/16 22:45

by Dave Mindeman

On Almanac, the 4 legislative leaders met to talk about the session. There was nothing really new, but you can kind of see where the lines have been drawn.

I find it concerning that the Republicans treat light rail transit as if it is their line in the sand. They "don't like trains." And Erik Eskola asked if Democrats are going to "fall on their sword over transit."

Really, how long does this archaic argument have to continue? And I do mean archaic. We are a major metropolitan area and we have the farthest to go of any city metro to get a comprehensive transit system in place.

We have stalled progress. We have let Federal money disappear. We have argued over benefits and costs. And have argued over where they go and who they are supposed to serve.

The latest criticism seems to be that "nobody uses it" and "greater MN doesn't want to pay for it."

Let's look at what we have. We have the Blue Line which essentially is transportation from Mall of America to downtown Minneapolis. We have the NorthStar which runs from Target Field to Big Lake -and if you are wondering why Big Lake and not St. Cloud, well let's just say that stalling and cost increases had a role. And now we have the Green Line, which connects the two cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The Blue Line exceeded expectations in ridership. The Green Line greatly exceeded expectations in ridership. And the NorthStar started out strong but has tapered off - probably because the promised extension to St. Cloud has never happened.

Frankly, the only way that light rail will fully meet its overall expectations is if the system would simply get completed. Southwest is on the table and a few others are in the investigation phase, but each one is necessary to complete the light rail package.

On Almanac, Daudt says that buses are "more efficient" than light rail. I would really like to see him quantify that, because I do not believe it.

Rail is fuel efficient.

If buses go electric, then maybe they would compete, but that is in the future and would cost a lot for retrofitting.

Rail moves more people more efficiently.

Buses use existing roads and contribute greatly to road wear and tear. They have a limited capacity and have to make more runs to move the same amount of people.

Rail is more reliable.

Buses are subject to road construction. Weather issues. And still have to deal with traffic congestion. Light rail has its own right of way and can move in a variety of weather conditions.

Rail costs a lot to build - but is competitive in ongoing maintenance.

Light rail trains require an enormous initial investment (which is what the GOP uses to scare people away). But once built, the advantages just described kick in to keep costs manageable. The additional problem of the delays in building light rail are increasing those initial costs. We need to get this done as soon as possible.

Rail is beneficial to more than a few.

When rail is connected to the regular bus system, the amount of use will always increase. However, the biggest argument to this is that rural area don't benefit from the light rail investment. But light rail costs in Minnesota are largely covered by a combination of a seven county metro tax and by Federal funds that are specially allocated for this purpose. If we don't meet those qualifications, that money will fund a rail project somewhere else. But in addition to that, the Minnesota population is aging. Rural elderly are moving closer to metropolitan areas to get needed services - and moving to the metro to be with family. And there is going to be a growing need in rural areas for more transportation options, which will probably mean more bus routes. Light rail can free up buses for that purpose.

Rail is a basis for business and residential development

It is not hard to see how development springs up around light rail lines. They are consistent modes of travel and residential housing is built accordingly. It can affect housing values positively as well. But businesses can make light rail part of their long term business plans as well. That is why businesses are on board to move light rail into our future.

Republicans have indicated, at least somewhat, that BRT is their preferred method of increasing transit. And while it is an improvement in some regards, it still causes damage to roads. It requires usage of road lanes that will limit road expansion for cars. It requires building special stations. And quite frankly, if the Red Line (BRT from Apple Valley to MOM) is any indication, usage is not meeting expectations.

All this talk of killing rail is affecting Minnesota's future. People already see how mass transit is used in most other metropolitan areas. When people move here, they are puzzled by our lack of transit options.

Don't let the Republicans fool you into thinking they are looking out for your taxes when it comes to light rail. A full and complete transit system is a big investment, but it is a necessary investment if we are to continue to grow and compete as a state.

Let's make this work.
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Rep. Jim Knoblach: Legislating By Technicality

Category: GOP House Republicans
Posted: 05/20/16 18:34

by Dave Mindeman

Rep. Jim Knoblach represents St. Cloud. But he did something odd...

Knoblach heads the House committee that makes sure the final House public safety bill matches the language of the Senate's version, so everyone's on the same page.

That public safety bill was supposed to include a bias bill....

This legislative session, Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) and Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL- Brooklyn Center) carried bills that would increase the penalty on bias-motivated felony assaults by 25 percent.

This bill grew out of an incident in Coon Rapids...

Last fall, Asma Jama was speaking Swahili with her family at a Coon Rapids Applebee's while waiting for her food. A nearby diner, Jodie Burchard-Risch, took it as a personal slight that Jama wasn't speaking the tongue of America, English. So she smashed Jama's face with a beer mug, according to police.

That woman got a slap on the wrist and Asma Jama got stitches.

But a number of ugly incidents regarding Minnesota's Somali population have occurred often in St. Cloud - which Knoblach represents.

City Pages chronicles a number of them here...

It is another way that racism has become more public (thanks to Donald Trump, no doubt) and physical altercation have become more commonplace.

The Latz/Hilstrom bill would increase the penalty for such blatant hate crimes. I don't know if that will be a true deterrent, but it would at least recognize the unacceptable nature of such actions.

St. Cloud has a growing Somali population...10% and growing. Many have resettled here because other family member came before them. But apparently, "White" Cloud is uncomfortable with all of it. Such a rapid transition is a difficult one to navigate, but to threaten people is going to lead nowhere.

But let's get back to Rep. Jim Knoblach. That Latz/Hilstrom bill moved through the House (and it passed the Senate) and was to be included in the public safety bill.

But Rep. Knoblach found a technicality.....

Over the last few days, Knoblach locked in all the public safety bills that both bodies of the legislature had already agreed to pass, in order to simplify which ones remained open for negotiation. The bias bill should have been included. It wasn't....The bill last came up for discussion Sunday night. At the time, Latz says he tried to convince Knoblach to secure its place in the public safety bill. Knoblach said he wouldn't do it because there had been a staffing error that left off the word "religion" in the House version, Latz recalls. It wasn't verbatim identical to the Senate version, so Knoblach wasn't willing to accept it.

This reasoning is still odd because Rep. Latz explains....

An inadvertent error like that could be fixed within 30 seconds if Knoblach would just make a motion to adopt the Senate language, says Latz.

Since Rep. Knoblach represents St. Cloud, it is hard not to make a connection between this bill and the racial incidents in that city. Is Knoblach looking out for a certain element in St. Cloud? Is he trying to avoid the increased penalties because he knows that some of those he represents would be affected? And what about the Somali population? Do they not deserve representation as well?

It would be nice if Rep. Knoblach would explain his reasoning more fully. The City Pages article that discusses all of this tried to get a response...

Knoblach could not be reached for comment.

This does not look right and I hope that this gets fixed in conference committee. In any event, it throws into question whether Jim Knoblach can really say he is representing ALL of St. Cloud.
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Rep. Anna Wills Says It's "Better Than $0"

Category: GOP House Republicans
Posted: 05/19/16 18:46

by Dave Mindeman

Rep. Anna Wills represents Apple Valley and Rosemount. The Minnesota Zoo is in her district. It is an Apple Valley institution and source of pride.

But it is funded through the state and requires state funds to operate. The Zoo is at a crossroads these days; they have a new director and are in the midst of some major overhauls to their exhibits.

Funding is crucial.

That is why it is puzzling that Anna Wills can't seem to influence her caucus enough to get proper money for the Minnesota Zoo. In the latest House bonding bill (which did not pass), the Zoo was to be allocated $4 million. They have a request that is 5 to 6 times that.

On the Senate side, Sen. Greg Clausen has fought for the Zoo every year he has been in the Senate. He always seems to find a way to get the funding adjusted upward....way above whatever the House pieces together.

What irritates a lot of Apple Valley folk is that Anna Wills always seems to take credit for the increased funding that comes from Clausen's Senate work. She tells her base how she is holding the line on spending and the meager Zoo allocations from the House reflect that, but she is all too eager to talk about the increased allocation that comes from any final bill.

She tweeted this in response to my complaint about the House bill...

Anna Wills ‏@annacwills 3h
I authored HF2760 for $34M for @mnzoo. House has $4M, Senate has $21M. Neither is enough, but both better than $0.

Now she is referring to a House bill that she introduced for the Zoo, but no action has been taken on it. It more or less is an advisory item for what the Zoo needs in the bonding bill.

You can pretty much put any amount on that type of bill, but it is not going to be moved. The bonding group for the House pretty much ignored the Wills request and put a $4 million figure up for the vote. She voted for the bonding bill - even though it is grossly inadequate. And I see little evidence that she went to bat for the zoo in any way.

"Neither is enough, but both better than $0."

That is how she defends the House bill. I think most people can see a palpable difference between $4 million in the House and $21 million in the Senate. The Zoo had a larger request than even the $21 million, but they know that these requests get pared back - it is almost guaranteed.

Senator Clausen worked to get the more reasonable allocation and that may give the Senate amount leverage in a conference committee.

Whatever comes back will probably be "better than $0" - and whatever that figure will be, Rep. Anna Wills will tell us all this fall, how successful she was in support of the Zoo.

Rep. Anna "Better Than $0" Wills.

The Zoo needs a better advocate. DFLer John Huot knows the importance of that.

Time to make a change.
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