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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Transit Suffers From Territorial Thinking

Category: Transportation
Posted: 08/23/16 12:15

by Dave Mindeman

It is frustrating when elected officials refuse to look at the bigger picture on transit. A comprehensive system has the greatest benefit for everybody, but too often representatives and commissioners get hyperfocused on their own particular piece.

Dakota County is having such a problem. The Dakota county commissioners recently voted to withdraw from the CTIB (Counties Transit Improvement Board) and stop the Dakota portion of the tax base. That has created a problem for several projects in the works, including the Orange Line BRT running from Burnsville into the Metro area. The remaining CTIB members balked at funding the project without Dakota County involved.

Thomas Egan, a Dakota County Board member, considered that "retaliation".

Egan described the Aug. 17 CTIB meeting as a showdown in which Chairman Peter McLaughlin of Hennepin County moved to curtail Orange Line funding, and the board's Dakota County contingent -- Egan and County Commissioner Mary Liz Holberg -- backed a failed amendment for full funding.

"The initial intent of the chairman was to reduce the scope of the Orange Line," Egan said. "I can't say exactly what his intent was, but I believe it was to terminate the Orange Line short of the Minnesota River so that it wouldn't even reach into Dakota County."

Obviously, Egan thought this was unfair. The Board ended up funding a large portion of the project - probably enough to keep them on track to get Federal funding help, but the situation remains muddled.

Egan's logic has some problems. Apparently, in Thomas Egan's rationale, transit is only valuable if your particular local part of it is given full attention. Which doesn't make much sense because the value of transit is the connections it allows for other areas.

Unless we fund transit that can be constructed across the entire Metro, its value is diminished. The Red Line BRT got funded by other counties besides Dakota, even though almost 75% of the line is strictly in Dakota County itself. But the only real value of the Red Line is that it connects the south metro to the Hiawatha Line and essentially the rest of the Twin Cities via the Green Line.

Transit is only valuable if interconnected. It is short sighted to look at this in a "what are you doing for me" context.

Egan cites his number as if it is the essential point....

Dakota County argues that its taxpayers' poor return on investment in CTIB will only worsen. Since the board was established in 2008, Egan said, Dakota County has contributed about 14 percent of revenue but received only 7 percent of CTIB's transit spending.

With planned light-rail transit projects, most immediately Southwest and Bottineau, the imbalance will widen, with Dakota County contributing 13 percent of funding and getting back only 3 percent, Egan said.

So, is Egan trying to tell us that the transit outside of Dakota County is not worth the expenditure? Do we want the tracks and bus lines to stop using Dakota County money at the county line?

If that is how the Dakota County Board is going to view transit projects, then we have a serious problem.....because that would mean that transit has no real value for us whatsoever.

You can argue percentages all you want but the only thing that really matters is if transit projects are funded 100%.

Too many county Commissioners are former Republican legislators. The Dakota County Board has former State Senator Chris Gerlach and former State Rep Mary Liz Holberg. The same kind of obstruction on transit that they imposed in the legislature is happening at the county level. And frankly, this is worse because the counties have more input into metro transit than the legislature. And with fewer votes needed to provide the obstruction.

This territorial obstruction is making full transit options more difficult.

Think about that when voting for Commissioners in the future.
comments (1) permalink

Urban Vs. Rural Is The MN House GOP Strategy

Category: Transportation
Posted: 08/19/16 12:37

by Dave Mindeman

The special session is dead and that means that this year's legislative work will not get done. That's too bad. But we are already into the general election and politics is hard to avoid.

The Republicans are gambling that they can make the DFL insistence on light rail inclusion for the special session the reason it did not happen. They have decided on yet another political division....Metro vs Rural.

It seems the GOP in Minnesota doesn't know how to operate a political campaign without some kind of "us vs them" scenario. For years, they have used social issues as their litmus test. Now, they want the rural communities to blame the metro for any of its own problems.

The truth is that rural and metro are interdependent. The agricultural economy of rural Minnesota is a vital economic engine for the State. But rural infrastructure is still dependent on metro taxes for payment.

It is the mathematics of population. Tax bases are population dependent. The more densely populated, the higher the tax base. Rural areas are simply going to need outside help.

But why does the DFL put so much emphasis on the SWLRT?

Because the House GOP has refused to cooperate on getting it financed. The Federal funding we need to move it forward can easily go elsewhere. All Minnesota needs to do is fund a small portion of it and the entire project can move forward. But the House GOP has put every conceivable obstacle in its path - with the result of making it cost more than the original plan.

The House Republicans are attempting to send a message to rural Minnesota that only "they" truly care about them - and use light rail as a prime example.

Except rural Minnesota is not being asked to pay for it. Metro county taxes will be the funding mechanism. Rural Minnesota will only be asked to share in some initial bonding.

And the House Republicans are also making the sketchy argument that rural Minnesota gets no benefit from light rail. I guess they assume that rural Minnesotans never venture out of their corn fields. That they have no business dealings with the Metro area. Never come here for recreation. Never have investments involved in the population center.

The truth is that light rail, in its metro entirety, needs to get done in order for the entire state to get the benefit. Rural visitors to the Metro want the ease of movement. To be able to expand their reach without the traffic jams and parking problems. Rural investors want to see the development projects that pop up all along light rail routes. Rural Minnesotans want to see their kids have the educational opportunities that are enhanced in the metro community....and want them to be able to commute in a safe and clean way.

And transportation itself is not just a rural or metro issue. Rail and mass transit needs rural political support and rural infrastructure needs the metro tax base to help pay for projects that run through sparsely populated areas.

Transportation should not be a divisive issue. This state is interdependent on its transportation infrastructure. We need roads and bridges. We also need mass transit. They are not separate issues....even though the GOP would have you believe that.

So when you get those flyers in the mail that say Democrats don't care about rural Minnesota because they only support trains, don't buy it. Go with the comprehensive plans that Democrats support. Make ALL of Minnesota important with a full and complete transportation plan.

A Democratic House and Senate will get this done - fully and completely and with a fair taxation plan that meets rural and urban needs.

Vote for ending the gridlock and vote for a Democratic House.
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Comprehensive MN Transportation MUST Include Transit

Category: Transportation
Posted: 08/12/16 17:44

by Dave Mindeman

GOP MN House Republicans are forming a narrative that they seem to think will allow them to keep a House majority.

Roughly, the narrative goes like this. The GOP House is fighting for rural Minnesota by not allowing the DFL to build those damn trains with money that could be used for roads and bridges in the outstate areas.

That is a nice simple narrative but it leaves out the real story.

First, about that money. The DFL is trying to leverage metro money to get Federal transportation subsidies (which are going to go somewhere) to pay the bulk of light rail costs here. Yes, there may be some small amount of bonding money involved but most of the state money comes from a metro sales tax that is paid for within the counties that would benefit the most from it. The only time rural Minnesota would be paying part of this is when they would come to Metro area to shop.

Second, while they obstruct the transit issue, they are blocking a comprehensive Minnesota transportation package that works for all Minnesotans. Rural Minnesota needs their own roads and bridges upgraded, but they also need the Metro connections their residents need for mobility. Rural Minnesota comes to the Metro for entertainment, for recreation, for broader merchandise purchases, and for other economic reasons. Efficient statewide connections and upgrades within the Metro area are essential for rural Minnesota as well. To give the impression that rural Minnesotans are isolated from the major population center is just plain wrong.

Third, the costs of infrastructure in rural Minnesota requires a heavy financial influx of dollars from those in the metro area as well. It is metro tax dollars that form the bulk of the Minnesota budget. If rural Minnesota could only use the local tax base, nothing would happen. So this constant, urban vs rural, narrative that the House GOP members are pushing is a self defeating one.

Yes, maybe the Democrats are going to insist on light rail being a part of the special session discussion. But that is as it should be. Rural Minnesota can make the argument that they shouldn't have to pay for "trains", but they are not being asked to. The needs of Minnesota transportation must be looked at in a comprehensive way. It is a comprehensive system and needs a comprehensive budget.

A light rail metro transit system is part of a Minnesota transportation system. Obstruction to that will only take Minnesota backward.
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