Transportation beat: Shake up Met Council, critics say

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2012 - 8:27 PM

To its supporters, the Metropolitan Council is a triumph of regional planning and a model for other urban areas.

To its critics, the agency is a bureaucracy insulated from elected officials and insensitive to suburban concerns.

Those detractors want to strip the agency of its authority over transit planning and turn the job over to a panel more accountable to elected officials.

Scott County Commissioner Jon Ulrich recalled recently how local officials responsible for advising the agency were shut out of work on a major transportation plan.

"We were told if you want to see the full plan ... it will be online later in the week," Ulrich said.

The critics want to turn the Met Council responsibilities for planning transit over to a board made up mostly of elected local officials, with many of them appointed by counties.

Current council members are appointed by the governor and don't hold elective office elsewhere. They sometimes profess ignorance of actions taken by the agency's staff. Recently, the council was forced to backpedal after suburbanites complained about designs for new buses. The governor expressed concerns about staff decisions on awarding a transit contract.

Republicans at the Capitol who want a greater role for elected officials also want to shift transit funding from the state to local property taxes. Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, said state funding doesn't work at a time of state budget shortfalls.

But Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, opposes the shift, noting that property taxes fall disproportionately harder on people with lower incomes. Hornstein also said stripping the Met Council of authority to plan transit but allowing it to continue to plan low- and moderate-income housing "doesn't make a lot of sense."

Still, he said giving a panel that includes elected officials power over transit is a good idea and has his own plan for doing so.

"There is something that needs to be reformed here," he said.

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504

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