Lawmakers Target “Monster” Met Council Again

Gov. Dayton vetoed the last attempt by legislators to get the Metropolitan Council in line. But lawmakers are back with a vengeance, picking up where they left off this week in committee hearings covered by Session Daily.

As Rep. Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake) put it to a House committee on Monday, the Met Council has become “a monster.”

“The point is not to question whether to change the Met Council,” Albright said. “It’s how to change the Met Council.”

Albright has revived a tweaked version of legislation he introduced in 2017 that proposes to dramatically reshape the agency, enlarging the body from 17 to 29 members — most of whom would be local elected officials, as opposed to the current cast of gubernatorial appointees.

Under HF3273, the council’s membership would include members appointed by the seven counties, by municipal committees in each Metropolitan Council District, and by the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul. They would serve staggered four-year terms; currently, members serve concurrently with one another, and coterminously with the governor who appointed them.

The House bill sailed through one committee this week, while a companion bill in the Minnesota Senate has already made it to the floor of the Senate. Meantime, other legislators are lined up for a crack at getting the most powerful unelected regional government in the country under local control.

Albright’s bill isn’t alone. The House transportation policy committee has heard a slew of bills this week intended to reform what its critics say is a metropolitan planning body run amok, but that the council’s supporters contend are unfairly targeting an important agency — even if it’s one in need of reform.

It’s telling that a handful of liberals agree that change needs to be implemented, even as they worked to water down the reforms under consideration.

Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls), a key DFL lawmaker on transportation issues, said during Monday’s hearing he believes that “[Albright] and I agree more than we disagree” on the need to overhaul the body. He unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to the Republican’s bill that would have made Met Council positions independently elected.

Another amendment introduced by Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL-New Brighton) proposed a 17-member task force to study potential changes to regional governance. It, too, was voted down.

Other measures aim to end the Met Council’s pursuit of light rail development once and for all.

Also at play in the push for changing the Metropolitan Council is Republican lawmakers’ disdain for expensive rail mass transit projects.

Proposals brought forward last year proposed prohibitions on using state funds for the planning or operation of future rail lines, including the planned Southwest LRT extension of the existing Green Line. HF3469, sponsored by Linda Runbeck (R-Circle Pines), chair of the House Transportation and Regional Governance Policy Committee, would direct the council to develop a new future transit system plan that excludes planning for expanded light rail, commuter rail or streetcar lines in favor of bus rapid transit and express bus corridors.

It’s needed, Runbeck said, to shake the council from its “fascination with fixed-guideway transit.

Of course, Gov. Dayton still stands in the way of any significant Met Council reforms. But the longer the left delays increasingly popular reforms to the Met Council, the deeper those reforms are likely to be in the long run.