Congress Set to Rein in Met Council With Help From American Experiment

InsideSources ran a thoughtful article highlighting one of the projects the Center has been working on in St. Paul and Washington, D.C. that is expected to produce a big win for the Center’s goal of reducing the Met Council’s power and reach.

This is a fun story about friendships and why elections matter, in case you have not heard it. Briefly, our good friend Kevin Terrell was perusing the Federal Register shortly after Obama left office (we tease him about getting a life but hope he does not).

Kevin found a new rule that would expand the Met Council’s jurisdiction for federal transportation planning purposes well beyond its seven-county border as the urban area expands. In fact, we found that the Council has already set up shop in Sherburne and Wright Counties.

I made sure this new rule got in front of elected officials in St. Paul and then Congressman Jason Lewis (R-Second District), who sits on transportation.

Here is the inside story:

As the United States has grown from thirteen free and independent states to a superpower spanning an entire continent, its government has grown too. While reformers have periodically tried to roll back the tide of bureaucracy, the fight has often been bitterly partisan and largely unsuccessful. This makes it somewhat surprising that a bill to limit the authority of metropolitan planning organizations has received overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill, recently introduced by Reps. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., and Jason Lewis, R-Minn., and eleven other original co-sponsors (now up to 28), would roll back an Obama-era regulation that dramatically expanded the area overseen by metropolitan planning councils.

The article continued why this is not just about Minnesota.

The issue is of local concern for Lewis, who represents the southern Minneapolis metro area. However, he quickly admits that the problem is much broader…

Lewis told InsideSources that these councils have grown from area planning bodies to councils that exercise an increasing amount of authority over transportation planning without necessarily being directly elected. States differ in how they selected members of their metropolitan planning councils, but many allow them to be appointed directly by the governor.

This makes them less accountable to voters for the decisions they make, argue opponents of the metropolitan planning council structure.

The reporter also picked up the Center’s take on the matter:

“If the Met Council met an explicit federal requirement that elected officials sit on the Council and the Council were truly just a planning body, this expansion of MPO boundaries might be slightly less alarming, but the Met Council’s unique and unaccountable governance structure (all members appointed by governor) has been ‘grandfathered’ for years,” writes Kim Crockett, vice president and senior policy fellow at Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment.

Congressman Lewis explained why his bill proved popular with colleagues from all over the country:

“The specter of a regional government transcending state boundaries but having control [over development] really bothers people in the northeast because the borders are so close and the states are so small,” says Lewis.

Further west, some municipalities fear that the Obama rule would allow metropolitan planning council authority to expand into areas presently outside of the metropolitan area which the council believes could become part of the area given development projects for the next twenty years. In Lewis’s home state of Minnesota, this could expand the area the council oversees to include seven counties, including some more than 25 miles from downtown Minneapolis.

In a nutshell, what does the bill do?

The proposed bill does not do away with metropolitan planning organizations altogether, but instead removes federal impediments to state legislatures voting to limit their authority.

“We aren’t quite sure why the federal government stepped in on this issue,” says Lewis, “but we wanted to knock down this barrier and return the authority to the states.”

We are glad he did.

Congressman Lewis’s bill has already passed the U.S. Senate and is up in the House this week. We are expecting to hear that the bill landed on the President’s desk for signature sometime next week.