Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis drummed up support at the State Capitol on Wednesday for his measure to restructure the Metropolitan Council, which the U.S. House passed last week. But both Minnesota DFL senators say they oppose it.
Lewis’ amendment would strip the current council of its authority to dole out millions of federal transportation dollars, absent local elected officials on the board. It was tacked onto a Federal Aviation Administration bill, which has yet to be approved in the Senate.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday, urging him not to include the amendment in a Senate version of the bill. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Tina Smith’s offices said they were opposed in statements Wednesday.
The council, which oversees the seven-county metro area, is one of the most powerful bodies of its type in the nation. Beyond transportation planning, it operates the region’s wastewater and transit systems, guides land use, and helps develop the regional parks system.
Lewis’ amendment takes aim at its designation as a transportation planning organization, allowing it to distribute federal transportation dollars. Other such organizations in the country include elected officials, but the Met Council — led by gubernatorial appointees — is grandfathered under federal law.
“Why we are still the last holdout, it’s a very, very untenable position to defend,” Lewis said at a news conference largely composed of Republican lawmakers. “So I think if these [lawmakers] as well as the citizens who are being governed by this unelected body make their voices heard, I expect it will survive the Senate.”
Smith called the amendment “careless.”
“It would jeopardize federal transportation funding to our state and make it much harder for Minnesota to plan and execute modern transportation projects,” Smith said in a statement. “I won’t support it.”
A body that includes elected officials, the Transportation Advisory Board, performs the detailed deliberations over the region’s transportation projects. Speakers alongside Lewis on Wednesday could not name an instance when the Met Council disagreed with their recommendations.
Lewis was accompanied by a number of state lawmakers who were promoting a bill to change the council so it would be led largely by local elected officials.
“It’s effectively become an offshoot of the executive branch, rather than representing the residents and citizens of the metropolitan area,” said Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, a sponsor of the state Senate measure.
That faces long odds of becoming law, however. Dayton vetoed a similar bill last year, and his spokesman Sam Fettig said Monday that the governor “opposes any changes to the Metropolitan Council this session.”
“I think we ought to actually be celebrating and not denigrating the model that we’ve got,” said TAB chair and Edina Mayor Jim Hovland in a subsequent news conference. “Because it is so special compared to what exists around the country.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey accused the reform advocates of being motivated by their opposition to public transportation and light rail. He added that a board of elected officials would disrupt the council’s regional focus.
“Stability is also important in the Met Council’s success,” Frey said. “And we need people on the council that look to regional interests and the success of many constituencies instead solely and exclusively of one city, or one county, or one portion of a county at a time.”