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Transit, roads and schools top legislative wish lists

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON and LAURIE BLAKE
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • January 1, 2013 - 11:40 PM

Transportation is high on the list of priorities for lobbying for southern suburbs as the Minnesota Legislature gets ready to open its 2013 session.

Scott County's top priority is the dollars needed for a new, wider and more floodproof Hwy. 101 bridge over the Minnesota River.

Dakota County is calling for increased transportation funding to address deteriorating infrastructure, reduce congestion, create jobs and provide transit.

And Eagan would like state funds for continued improvements to the Cedar Avenue transitway, including an exit-entrance on Cedar at the Cedar Grove Transit Station, near the site of a planned outlet mall.

Education is also getting more prominence, even from civic leaders who are not directly responsible for schools.

One of three primary goals of a coalition of civic leaders in Scott, including mayors and County Board members, is a set of issues having to do with schools. The group wants, among other things:

• Help in providing all-day pre-K and kindergarten for all students, in an era when immigrants and others with education disadvantages are becoming more numerous in suburban districts.

• "Repurposing" funds that once had been devoted to integrating schools into efforts to "reduce the achievement gap," a sign that the strains cause by integration need attention.

On the Scott County side, there is also a lot of emphasis this year on retooling the Metropolitan Council to give places like Scott more oomph as it makes vital decisions affecting the long-range future.

"We haven't had a representative on the council from Scott County for a long time," said County Commissioner Jon Ulrich. "We need to have a rep from each of the seven counties, although the other nine members can be in proportion to population."

There is support from even key DFLers for recasting the membership of the council, and Scott's point is that "elected officials would help the culture of the Met Council better than appointed reps," Ulrich told a gathering of civic leaders last month.

Scott also wants staggered terms on the Met Council, so the agency doesn't veer so sharply from one philosophy to another each time a governor of a different party takes office. "Right now one governor has a complete stamp," Ulrich said.

Lurking in the background of Scott's desire for a bigger say is its concern over the Met Council's influence on both road projects and transit.

Michael Leek, development director in Shakopee, told the group that the long-sought and long-delayed Hwy. 41 bridge -- on which "I feel like I've spent 20 percent of my life" -- is coming up on a key turning point.

"We need to complete environmental studies," he said, "because federal rules have changed -- if it's not complete, we won't get such a study again unless we have funding in hand," something that seems unlikely considering that state and regional powers have no plans for it.

Eagan and Burnsville have sent legislators their wish lists for the upcoming legislative session. Among the requests from Eagan is a plea to respect the city's careful budgeting and not address state deficits by taking money from city cash flow accounts.

Both cities also emphasized their opposition to state levy limits or property tax freezes, seeing those as matters of local control.

Burnsville also stressed transportation, including increased statewide funding for transportation needs and the independence of opt-out suburban bus systems such as the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority. The city said the systems should be allowed to operate without interference by the Metropolitan Council, which oversees the regional transit system.

dapeterson@startribune.com 952-746-3285 lblake@startribune.com • 952-746-3287

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