Key Legislators Make the Bipartisan Case for met Council Reform, Again
Lead by the House’s Majority Leader Joyce Peppin and Rep. Linda Runbeck, several dozen metro-area legislators appealed to readers in the Star Tribune today to consider how a bad governance model for the Met Council has burdened the metro area with expensive and ineffective transportation policy and unacceptable levels of traffic congestion.
Oh, we have lots of fancy new bike trails and bridges, confusing bike logos stamped all over our streets (how do cars safely share the lane with bikers?)—and $3 million dollar Siemens LRT trains but we do not have enough lane miles to get where we want to go in a reasonable amount of time.
Here are some key excerpts from the op-ed (The Met Council: Why this unelected governing body needs reforms: Misleading financial statements and mismanagement of the Southwest light-rail project are fueling distrust). You can read it in its entirety here.
Lack of transparency and accountability go a long way toward explaining the mismanagement we’ve witnessed recently. An audit completed last month by the nonpartisan legislative auditor found that the council used two different sets of financials, one provided to the Legislature showing a $68 million deficit and the other to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), showing a healthy surplus of $152 million. More disappointing is that Gov. Mark Dayton demanded that taxpayers fill that operating deficit while castigating the Legislature for so-called transit funding “cuts.”
Beyond misleading the federal government, Legislature and public on its financial situation, the council is responsible for a series of glaring mismanagement issues. For instance, the SWLRT bid-letting process has resulted in 36 local contractors being barred from submitting bids because of FTA rules meant to ensure fair competition. The public deserves to know the facts behind this fiasco, and why hundreds of local jobs promised to Minnesotans will be going to out-of-state contractors.
What’s more, the city of Minneapolis will also be feeling the sting of council decisions. In a hurry to circumvent the Legislature on light-rail funding, Hennepin County approved a half-cent transit tax, and because of a statutory sales tax cap, forced Minneapolis to reduce its lodging tax. With thousands of tourists rolling into town for the Super Bowl in February, it seems the Met Council will win and Minneapolis will lose millions.
Projected costs stemming from the council’s plan for a fixed guideway transit system are so consequential that they risk other obligations of state and local government for everything from education to public safety, as well as the overall well-being of the seven-county metro area. Elected leaders and the public can no longer allow the Metropolitan Council to go on with business as usual. As legislators, we will continue to advance needed reforms to bring balance and accountability to this unaccountable, reckless government agency.
After nearly 50 years of frustration with the Met Council, the legislature can improve on the old model, keeping the good while tossing the bad. The next legislative session is supposed to focus on bonding; sounds like a good time to get some more roads planned and funded. And to map out the road to reform for the Met Council.
As the Legislators said:
Distrust of the council arises from a governance structure that allows this unelected body to exercise power over 3.5 million metro residents with little to no accountability. The council, reporting only to the governor, now controls all federal and state resources for metro transportation, transit, subsidized housing, water treatment, parks and airports.
This 50 year experiment in delegating power to an unaccountable body should be declared a failure and brought to an orderly end.