Congressman Jason Lewis Files Bill to Contain the Met Council

Danger SignWe have been telling you about a new rule the Feds promulgated the day before President Trump took office. The rule could officially expand the boundaries of the Met Council beyond the seven-county metro area for federal transportation planning (and related housing issues) only. The Met Council is the federally designated “metropolitan planning organization” or MPO for the Twin Cities seven-county metro area.

“This rule clarifies that an (MPO) must include an entire urbanized area (UZA) and the contiguous area expected to become urbanized within a 20-year forecast period for the metropolitan transportation plan.”

The federal government does not want to deal with more than one authority for an urbanized area. “This final rule revises the transportation planning regulations to promote more effective regional planning by States and metropolitan planning organizations (MPO).”

As Cato’s Randall O’Toole put it, “MPOs are a creature of the feds. If the state has given the Met Council special powers (such as taxing authority) in a seven-county area, that can’t change. But the transportation planning authority mandated by the feds can extend across more than seven counties if the feds say so.”

The new rule is not supposed to officially affect the Twin Cities right now; it did not make the list of urbanized areas based on the 2010 census or the anticipated 2020 census. But here is the odd thing: the Met Council is already doing transportation planning in Wright and Sherburne Counties under an agreement signed in 2014. Those counties are outside of the seven-county metro area. That needs to get sorted out (and we are working on that).

Congressman Jason Lewis (MN-02) is not taking any chances. He just introduced H. J. Res. 84, a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to restore local planning authority by rejecting the MPO rule. Joining his colleague Congressman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL-03) on a bipartisan bill which would have the same effect, Congressman Lewis said the following:

“The DOT made a serious overreach in the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) rule, which expanded their authority far beyond the cities they currently serve. This rule takes power away from local municipalities and states and could allow the Met Council to levy taxes outside the cities to fund special projects. My resolution simply nullifies that flawed rule and allows local decision makers to continue serving their own communities. I am proud to work in a bipartisan manner with Congressman Lipinski to push good policy forward for our constituents.”

The Congressional Review Act gives Congress the power to repeal final rules from federal agencies within 60 legislative days by a majority vote in both chambers on a ‘Joint Resolution of Disapproval’ and the President’s signature.

According to the Congressman’s office, “This is a gross overreach from the Congressional intent of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and deprives local municipalities and states of the ability to make their own decisions when planning projects that best meet their needs. Lewis’ resolution, H. J. Res. 84, would undo that rule and restore local planning authority.”

This should stop the virus of regionalism from spreading beyond the seven-county area. Congress can do that, and maybe more. But Congress cannot fix the Met Council. It is a creature of state government and as such, only the Legislature, in concert with the governor, has the power to save the metro area from this regional bully.