DC’s view of the Met Council

Congressman Jason Lewis would contain the council from DC

Federal bureaucrats promulgated a new rule regarding metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) the day before President Trump took office.

The rule may have already extended the boundaries of the Met Council (the metro area’s MPO) beyond the seven-county metro area for federal transportation planning (and related housing issues). The Met Council could even theoretically jump the border to Hudson in St. Croix County, Wisconsin.

As Randall O’Toole from CATO 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 federal government does not want to deal with more than one authority for an urbanized 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.”

What is puzzling and disturbing is that the Met Council is already doing transportation planning in Wright and Sherburne Counties under an agreement signed in 2014. Those counties are outside the seven-county metro area. The Center is trying to figure out how that happened and how it happened so quietly.

Even though this rule was slammed hard during the public comment period, federal officials ignored concerns about outdated ideas like local control and self-governance. “This final rule revises the transportation planning regulations to promote more effective regional planning by States and metropolitan planning organizations (MPO).”

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.

This is why the Center has urged the Legislature to review both the governance structure and the scope of authority of the Council. Until both are addressed, Minnesota will get more bad outcomes like an expensive LRT system that has done nothing to relieve road congestion and a transportation policy that starves the metro area of new road lanes and money for proper road maintenance.

What are Minnesota leaders doing about this creeping super-regionalism?

After the Center alerted him, Congressman Jason Lewis (R-MN-02), who sits on the House Transportation Committee, quickly fi led a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act. This got the attention of his colleague, Daniel Lipinski (D-IL-03). The Congressmen have agreed on a bipartisan bill (HF 1346) to repeal the rule. This rule does not have support from most elected officials at any level of government; only bureaucrats liked it, so its repeal should pass Congress.

Congressman Lewis said, “The DOT made a serious overreach in the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) rule. 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.”

The Center does not read the Federal Register just for kicks. We got lucky. Our friend Kevin Terrell of Katana Consulting stumbled on this new rule. What other rules should be rolled back?