Lileks: Bonding bill's secret: Something for everyone

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 19, 2012 - 7:50 PM

The upcoming state bonding bill is a model of fiscal responsibility, because it does not include a pony for everyone. That would have been popular, but times are lean.

Still, the price is steep: Three-quarters of a billion dollars, or roughly what the Federal Government spent while you read thus far. And there's $7 million toward upgrading the Minnesota Zoo's dolphin exhibit, which is insane. DOLPHINS DO NOT VOTE.

Humanwise, though, everyone gets a taste: Minneapolis will get $25 million to upgrade the Nicollet Mall, including, presumably, a robot Mary Tyler Moore that throws the hat on the quarter-hour.

If people who never go downtown think that's too much, well, there's money to upgrade a sports facility in Blaine. Twelve million to fight Asian carp, using a pilot program developed in Chicago -- the fish will be paid money to go bother someone else.

St. Paul gets $27 mil toward a Saints stadium, which is madness: Just wait and you can have the Metrodome for nothing. We'll put it out on the curb, and the Saints can come by and get it.

Everyone gets something in the bonding bill. You could say it's a case of mutual back-scratching, but there are too many backs involved: It's more like a Kama Sutra for octopuses.

There's money for light rail, but not a word about a high-speed rail link between the Twin Cities and Chicago. Doesn't mean it's dead. Just this week the St. Paul City Council and the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners voted to support a route that shoots from St. Paul to the Windy City. Of course, they can vote to support the replacement of Neptune with a shiny disco ball if they want. Doing it is something else. But this is how it starts.

Let's deal with the objections:

1. A waste of resources!!! That's money that could be spent on MPP, or My Preferred Project. There are many MMPs in the state, but if they're not Mine, then they're YPP, which makes them stupid and wasteful. The MPP I have in mind costs less and does more, has 40 percent less fat than the leading brand and has not been tested on animals. So, yeah, a train is stupid.

2. There's already something that goes to Chicago, and it's called a train too. Granted, it's something of a secret; it arrives early in the morning, and you have to call a special number to get tickets. There's an interview process that might put some people off -- they want to know where you're going, how you'll pay; it's the regular third degree -- but if you're successful, you get a ticket and the train will take you to Chicago in eight hours.

EIGHT? you say. Deal-breaker. High-speed rail gets there in six hours. One of the arguments I've read in favor of the train says you could leave at noon for an evening Twins away game, and while I admit that's a gosh-almighty compelling reason to spend a billion, it doesn't make much sense from a businessperson's point of view. A train that leaves at noon gets you to Chicago just as everyone's leaving work, so it would have to leave early in the morning. You know, like the train does already.

Of course, businesspeople won't take it anyway. They will fly, because it's fast. I flew from Chicago to Minneapolis recently; we got up to cruising speed, the flight attendants ran down the aisle throwing pretzels at people, there was an in-flight movie that consisted of a three-minute YouTube clip and then we descended. It lacked the clackety-clack romance of whooshing through Wisconsin, but it was short. Given a choice between quick round-trips that get you home at day's end and a two-leg train ride long enough to watch the extended cut of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy on your iPad, most go-getters will choose the latter.

Which leaves vacationers -- who, by definition, have time for the eight-hour version, right?

If you raise a skeptical eyebrow toward trains, you're regarded by some as an obstacle to progress, but perhaps we can all agree that the presence of the word RAIL in a public expenditure does not automatically mean it's a desirable thing.

Heavy rail to bring commuters from the Northwest exurbs, extending the Northstar line? I think that's a good idea. Others don't. We can have a reasonable debate. High-speed rail to Chicago? We can argue. High-speed rail with a special dolphin car? Nonsense. See? Consensus. It's not that hard.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/popcrush.

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