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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Transit: What Is Return On Investment?

Category: Transportation
Posted: 09/17/16 23:34

by Dave Mindeman

When it comes to general transportation, we have to think in a state wide context. All avenues of transportation need to be addressed as the need arises. When northern Minnesota needs bridge repair, general revenue has to be a part of the fix. We generally get that, although politics still gets in the way.

We have generally taken metro transit and laid most of the funding responsibility within the 7 country metro area. We have the Metropolitan Council that oversees the broader plan. And we have the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) board which deals mainly with projects within a condensed 5 county area via a local sales tax.

The CTIB has run into a problem.

Dakota County, saying they are not getting their fair share of Dakota County projects via the Board, in regards to the tax revenue they contribute, are leaving the CTIB. They are taking their revenue out of the broader mix.

Under the by-laws of the Board, Dakota County will continue its contribution until 2018.

Dakota County claims that they have contributed 13% of total revenue for the CTIB, but get only 7% worth of projects in return.

But how is that "getting in return" defined?

Here is one quote on that...

(The Board) pays half of the annual cost of operating the Green and Blue light-rail lines, the Red Line BRT in Dakota County and the Northstar commuter rail in the northern suburbs.

The Red Line BRT operates almost exclusively in Dakota County. The Blue Line (Hiawatha rail) connects directly with the Red Line and offers transit to downtown Minneapolis...which in turn connects with the Green Line going to St. Paul....and the Northstar that moves almost to St. Cloud.

Now how do you define your return on investment?

Do Dakota County residents want that transit access to the Mall of America? The South Metro Outlet Mall? The access to Target Field and the Vikings Stadium? Downtown Minneapolis? The Capitol? Is all that important to them?

Yes, you could say that a small percentage of these projects occur directly on Dakota County property (although the Red Line is almost all in Dakota Count)....but the object of building transit is a more complete access across the Metro. The Dakota County Board obviously has some small minded and limited vision Commissioners.

And if you look at who is on the list...there are former Republican legislators who have been fighting transit projects for years. Mary Liz Holberg and Chris Gerlach stand out the most. And Thomas Egan (not a legislator) who has been one of the more vocal supporters of moving Dakota County out of the CTIB.

The timing for this withdrawal is also odd because the Orange Line is in the mix for the next round of projects and that transit route comes down to Burnsville, directly benefiting Dakota County again.

All of this has, as you might expect, caused some hard feelings with other members of the CTIB. And surprise, surprise...Dakota County projects are having a hard time getting heard with the downsized board.

Tom Egan thinks this is "very unfair" and expressed his displeasure in a Facebook Post:

I find it astonishing that when the grossly unfair financial treatment Dakota County is - and would be - receiving from CTIB is so graphically clear, some CTIB board members still blame Dakota County for all CTIB's problems. Let me be perfectly clear: no matter how the figures are juggled, no other CTIB county comes close to Dakota County's unfair treatment. Thanks for many of you telling me you recognize this fact. And to demonstrate how interested they are in good regional planning, one CTIB county has refused to participate in a critically important East/West Transit Study just because it was initiated by Dakota County.

Let's be clear. I would question Egan's definitions of good regional planning. His definition involves affected county planning only...he refuses to look at a comprehensive picture. Transit is about looking at the metro as a whole...not who gets the right amount of investment return. If you believe that the Green Line and Blue Line do NOT benefit Dakota County, then you have blinders on. The idea that transit can be piecemealed into a patchwork of projects that come out of each individual county based on their own terms is ludicrous. The CTIB deals in a comprehensive transit vision - which Egan apparently has never been able to embrace in his own narrow scope.

And Egan also gets miffed that the East/West transit study gets shortchanged because of this controversy. Well, maybe if Dakota County is withdrawing their financial support from the board, then maybe the other counties might change the priorities. Why not? There is a multitude of projects to work on and if one county decides to take all its toys and go home, then it would seem they lose their right to complain.

The Dakota County Board of Commissioners will go to the voters and tell them how fiscally responsible they have been. And that will be a flat out lie. Just like the House legislative Republicans, they are nothing more than another obstruction to Minnesota transportation.

Chris Gerlach is up for election this time around. A vote for Gerlach is a vote against transit.

Vote Don Post.
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Cynical Daudt Uses SWLRT As A Means To Keep His Job

Category: Transportation
Posted: 09/08/16 15:50

by Dave Mindeman

The House Republicans are playing one of those political games with the Minnesota State budget and we are all paying a price. The most important thing to Daudt and his cohorts is re-election - not governing. Frankly, sometimes I fear they do not know how to govern.

The issue is Southwest Light Rail. Here are the opposing positions.

Republicans - The SWLRT benefits only the Metro area. Greater MN should not be burdened further with rail transit being included in the transportation bill. Democrats insist on holding up transportation for a train.

Democrats - The SWLRT needed to be included in the comprehensive transportation package because the state is at the end of a Federal deadline. If they do not fund their portion of the project, the Federal funds will go elsewhere and the project is dead.

Those are the arguments being taken to the voters this fall. Daudt and the House Republicans are staking the fate of their majority on this ploy.

But this kind of cynical ploy is why government doesn't function efficiently. Minnesota should be governed as a whole - not in regional factions. The Democratic transportation bill fully funded the needs of the entire state. No one has complained that the Democrats left greater Minnesota high and dry. No, the Democratic bill had basically only one critic.

Speaker Kurt Daudt.

In transportation terms, Daudt is a rail obstructionist. He uses these metro projects to appear deeply concerned about greater Minnesota needs getting shortchanged.

But he, of course, doesn't tell the whole story.

Although the SWLRT project funding appeared in the State bill, greater Minnesota was not going to be stuck with paying for it. Minnpost talks about the project and its political implications here.....

Here are some important points:

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.

Notice the funding comes from a metro-area sales tax. Not state wide. The metro users would pay the freight. Yet, Daudt continues to make this bogus argument that greater MN is being unnecessarily burdened.

This ploy by the House GOP looks familiar. It is the same tactic that they took in 2014 with the Senate Office Building. Except, the taxpayers outside of the metro are NOT going to pay for SWLRT.

"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 the are trying to connect the dots they can't connect."

And here is the key point...

"Campaigning on gridlock seems to be their whole campaign strategy, and that's not a very good idea," Rodvold added.

Its an idea that could work however, because the House GOP doesn't tell greater Minnesota the whole story.

The Daudt obstruction forced Metro area planners to go more heavily into the pockets of a smaller metro group. The Metropolitan Council added part of it. Hennepin County added more. And the CTIB board which represents 5 of the Metro Counties took on another part of the burden.

In order to broaden the financial structure to the entire seven county metro area, they needed state legislative authorization. Not to do a general sales tax - just a metro tax.

Daudt used that necessity to play his little election game.

His half truth sound bites have deepened th urban-rural divide in this state. And it is so completely unnecessary.

I don't know if the basic facts will get through the rhetoric and multiple mailings that flood an election cycle. Right now it is very hard to tell. But for Kurt Daudt to put Minnesota overall transportation at risk because he thinks that metro transit can be made into a GOP political point is beneath the office he holds.

This is one state...not a group of divided regions. Transportation needs of everyone can be attained in a fair way.

The biggest cynical truth in all this is that Daudt knows that. He just wants to keep his job.
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The Cynical Political Transit Ploy Of Kurt Daudt

Category: Transportation
Posted: 08/26/16 17:20

by Dave Mindeman

The Met Council has a proposal to try and get the state portion of SWLRT funding by adding to the metro share of the package. It is not a sure thing because it requires commitments from three different groups involved with area transportation.

But if it is approved, it has been accepted as a state funding source by the Federal government, which would release the Federal funds to make the project work.

So, the project has a chance to go ahead despite all the Republican opposition that has plagued transit for a long time.

This has been a prickly path to completion. And we still do not have a comprehensive transportation package. Republicans have not been willing to compromise on transit funding. They threw their own Transportation Committee Chair, Tim Kelly, under the bus (pardon the pun) by reneging on an agreement that would have given us that full package along with the light rail funding.

The House Leadership just completely cut the legs off of Kelly and left him powerless to do anything to move transportation along.

Daudt has been trying to rebrand this whole episode as the Democrats sacrificing state transportation for the foolish light rail project. He has been spinning a rural vs. metro funding fight - even though rail is, and will be, largely funded by seven county sources.

The reality is Daudt was willing to block funding for roads and bridges in order to try and score political points that will have a better chance of getting his rural caucus members re-elected.

It is a very cynical political game. And one that I hope fails to pass the transparency test.

We'll see if SWLRT lives to fight on in a few days.
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