Second District Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis is attempting to apply the heavy thumb of the federal government to tip the scales in a long-running debate over the composition of the Metropolitan Council. We think Lewis and the feds should keep their hands off. This is a matter Minnesotans can and should decide for themselves.
Since its founding in 1967 as a citizens’ panel appointed by the governor, some Minnesotans have argued that the council should be elected. That argument intensified as the 17-member council’s role expanded from coordinating to operating regional services such as transit, wastewater treatment and parks.
Originally, reformers called for direct election of council members. In recent years, critics situated primarily in outer-ring suburbs have argued instead that people elected to other local governments posts, such as county commissioners, should also serve on the Metropolitan Council. At the Legislature, a bill for that approach has GOP backing, but it is opposed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who vetoed legislation including that measure last year.
We’ve also been skeptical about creating a “council of governments.” Its members would be politically beholden to the local constituencies that elected them, rather than the region as a whole. Instead, we favor instituting staggered terms for council members and employing a panel of local officials as a screening committee to recommend council candidates to the governor.
Enter Lewis last week with an amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration bill. It would require that the council have locally elected representation to keep its status as a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), eligible to receive and disburse federal transportation funds. That’s the role the council has played for decades, with input from local elected officials on an advisory board. Despite opposition by four suburban counties, that role was affirmed by the federal government as recently as 2016.
If Lewis’ amendment would become law, the result would be “uncertainty (that) could paralyze our regional transportation planning and funding efforts,” Alene Tchourumoff, council chairwoman, said last week. That could lead to the loss of federal funds and a halt to transit improvements in this region, she said. Lewis disputes that claim. Still, that’s a lot to risk in order to short-circuit Minnesota-based decisionmaking.