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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Mary Liz Holberg & Chris Gerlach: Gumming Up The Works

Category: Transportation
Posted: 07/03/16 11:43, Edited: 07/03/16 11:46

by Dave Mindeman

The Pioneer Press put together an editorial that praised the "courage" of the Dakota County Board of Commissioners to withdraw from the Counties Transit Improvement Board. This sets the stage to, once again, cripple light rail in the Metro area.

And behind this board decision are two former Republican legislators - Chris Gerlach and Mary Liz Holberg. These two medieval thinkers were obstructors of light rail in the legislature and have found a new avenue to destroy it on the county board.


Gerlach and Holberg are back row - first two on the left.

Here is a Holberg quote that theoretically "sums it up":

"The transit projects scheduled for Dakota County are in the tens of millions of dollars, and the light-rail lines are in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. You just can't compete with that disparity. We're buying Chevys, and they're buying Cadillacs. You just never get to a point where there's some level of parity."

What a pile of crap.

First Holberg uses cars as some kind of analogy. Chevys and Cadillacs. She is fixated on cars as somehow superior. Light rail and roads are not analagous. They are different entities and appeal to commuters differently.

Sure, light rail costs a lot to put in place. Roads have a heavy initial cost when they first begin as well. And more problematic, they cost more to maintain going forward.

Holberg and Gerlach have never been able to see past the up front costs. They both represented Dakota County in the legislature. Holberg was even transportation chair for much too long. And Gerlach has been a thorn in the side of light rail since he started. A thorn in the side of Minnesota progress.

And they always were proud to state that they were taxpayer "watchdogs". Looking out for your money.

As demand for light rail transit progressed around the Metro suburbs. Dakota County was never really in the mix. Instead, Chris Gerlach championed BRT - Bus Rapid Transit as the way to go. He contended that it was just as efficient and cost a whole lot less.

Alright, let's examine all of that.

First on cost. Roads are a constant expense. We have fallen behind on the maintenance of this system...let alone adding to it. We are talking about $10 billion over the next 10 years - and that is pretty much all roads.

So Holberg and Gerlach do not want to let light rail suck up all that road money.

The problem with that kind of thinking is that we do not compete with other metropolitan areas. Many major population areas have moved well beyond our current system. If we are going to support the tourism for the Mall of America, then we need a modern transportation system. If we are going to be an airline hub, we need an efficient way to move people into the city. If we want conventions and business centers to develop, then we need convenience of movement.

Roads can only take us so far. And we cannot asphalt enough property to make it work.

But what is the real cost? Yes, light rail has an enormous build cost. It requires a lot of infrastructure and planning. Roads have been built on need but could have used a bit more planning. We are constantly dealing with upgrades and bottlenecks that need major overhauls. That costs real money as well. With light rail, we get development that builds around it. It is predictable growth and can be planned more systematically.

But to get to real numbers....

In Minnpost, an investigative reporter named Marlys Harris (she has worked for Money magazine and Consumer Reports) did an analysis that put a dollar value on road cost. Her number came in at $2.56 as the subsidy government pays for an automobile commute.

The numbers for an average passenger trip on other transit:

Local Urban buses = $2.17
Suburban buses = $4.98
Express bus = $2.48
Light rail = $1.44

So, if Holberg and Gerlach could get their myopic viewpoint away from the initial cost of rail, they might actually see the cost benefit in the future.

But like most Republican legislators, they do not look at the future as relevant. Not to the current budget. Not the current political cycle. The future is just more of the same partisan wrangling and budget chicanery that we deal with in the here and now.

County Commissioners are paid by the taxpayers to think ahead, to plan, to look out for the needs of constituents into the future.

Gerlach and Holberg are just bad at this type of thinking. They were that way in the legislature - they are worse as county commissioners. When they were in the legislature they were only 2 of 134. Now they are 2 of 7. That is lousy odds for Dakota County.

And since Dakota County has a significant population for the seven county metro area, these odds are bad for Minneapolis and St. Paul...and bad for the state of Minnesota.

Holberg and Gerlach are gumming up the works.
comments (1) permalink

Speaker Kurt Daudt Is Just Bad At His Job

Category: Transportation
Posted: 06/22/16 14:19

by Dave Mindeman

Now the House GOP is moving the goal posts on a special session:

But instead of getting closer to an agreement, things went backwards on Tuesday when Republicans brought language for two "controversial" proposals into the mix, Dayton said. One proposal would block local governments from passing their own wage and employee benefit laws, and the other would provide tax credits for private schools, a proposal that had prevented lawmakers from agreeing to a special session before, back in January and February.

Kurt Daudt is just bad at his job.

Once more, he completely ignores any possible compromise with the Democrats, and instead, adds more items to his list. And then he is "surprised" that progress is not being made.

Why would you demand a limitation at the local level on wages and benefits? Are you afraid that workers might actually get a raise? And bringing up tax credits for private schools - seriously, you know that has been hashed and rehashed before and is controversial enough to go nowhere. Especially now.

You don't add bargaining chips after the fact.

Kurt Daudt is just bad at his job.

And I realize that it is important to Daudt to blame the other side for anything and everything, but have a point. If you think this is about politics, maybe you should have thought of that when the session was ending. Then you had the choice - you had the power to make it work. Now, you do not. You abdicated that power. It is now in the governor's hands, so stop acting like you still have it.

Really, really bad at his job.
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Special Session: This Fear Of Trains Is Foolishness

Category: Transportation
Posted: 06/21/16 14:16

by Dave Mindeman

We are stuck at an impasse for a special session. Most of it seems to be attributable to the House GOP position that they will not support light rail.

The quotes are ominous:

Kurt Daudt: "I don't know yet if this is a sticking point that's going to hold everything else up. I hope it's not, but at this point there are not enough votes to pass these bills if Southwest light rail is included."

Rep. Peggy Bennett: "The Southwest Light Rail Transit project (SWLRT) costs $1.77 billion total. The state can pay up to $135 million for construction and is expected to pay a portion of the $28.7 million in annual operations costs."

Tax Chair Greg Davids calls it a "non-starter". They seem to want it to die.

So let's consider the realities of this:

1) Funding

Let's look at Rep. Bennett assertion about cost. First of all, of that $1.77 billion cost, about $1 billion of it will come from the Federal government. But that $1 billion is not going to be available much longer - it will go somewhere else if Minnesota does not invest their own portion. We may not get another chance at that level of investment. And let us also be clear, this is not money that is raising anyone's taxes. The $1 billion appropriation has already been accounted for in the Fed budget - it will go somewhere, so it is important that Minnesota finally get a share. We already pay much more in Fed taxes than we get back in benefits.

2) How to pay for it

The House Republicans assert that greater Minnesota wants no party of light rail. They do not benefit and the costs are too high. Well, if greater MN was being asked to pay for it, I would agree with them. But they are not. The funding will come from a seven county metro sales tax..not a statewide tax. There may also be some bonding money involved which is paid back statewide, but there are also plenty of outstate projects involved for which the Metro area gets no benefit. The House GOP assertions are bogus.

3) The cost will continue to rise

As we continue to debate this, the cost of this project will probably be greater than the $1.77 billion now projected. And that increase will be on us - our portion. We have flailed away on this project for years with local arguments and routes....all of which has ended up increasing the costs. If we do not do this now, I fear it will fail completely and the Fed money goes away and we lose out on our entire investment up to this point.

4) Killing special session wipes out other agreements

There are plenty of good things that benefit the entire state waiting to be agreed upon in a special session. House Republicans seem to believe that they are making political points by this boycott. Yet, the greater MN constituency that they say they are protecting is really not affected by the light rail issue - they may not get full benefits, but they are not paying for it either. Therefore, allowing all the other agreements to die because of a political point on metro rail is doing a disservice to greater MN.

5) This is a necessary investment for future growth

The House GOP only discusses light rail in terms of costs. They ignore the benefits...and they ignore their chamber allies who want this to move forward. Transit is an investment that has a high rate of return. The future is full of people who want to use transit instead of cars. Of commuters who want an alternative. Of development projects waiting for the routes to be determined. And it is our method of competing with other metro areas that already are way ahead of us on mass transit. Metro areas that will compete with us for businesses and educated workers.

To me, there is no question that the investment in SWLRT is no-brainer. But even for the House Republicans that do not like it, it is not taking funds away from your prioritized projects. This special session can be quickly adjudicated and all the benefits that the House feels it has lost can be restored.

Light rail is an important aspect of the future for Minnesota. Letting a special session die over an unwillingness to make that investment is foolhardy.

And really, Speaker Daudt, you do not have to fear the trains.
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