The Metropolitan Council would be stripped of its authority to distribute millions of federal transportation dollars if a provision approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday becomes law.
The measure, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minn., tackles long-simmering complaints about gubernatorial appointees, rather than elected officials, leading the powerful regional government.
The council’s status as the Twin Cities’ official transportation planning organization is grandfathered into federal law, which otherwise mandates that those boards must have local elected officials.
“We now have in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region the only board in the country that is entirely nonelected, the only [transportation planning organization] that has the authority to independently raise taxes and is nonelected,” Lewis said during debate on his amendment, tacked onto the Federal Aviation Administration bill.
The measure’s future is uncertain in the Senate, which has yet to vote on its own FAA reauthorization bill. In a letter to the state’s congressional delegation Wednesday, Gov. Mark Dayton, a DFLer, warned that the change would “circumvent a long-standing and productive process at a time when transportation investment is critical to our region.”
Met Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff also criticized the proposal.
“We cannot predict whether the region, and its many diverse interests, would be able to continue to find common ground on building a new [planning organization],” Tchourumoff said in a statement. “This uncertainty could paralyze our regional transportation planning and funding efforts, putting billions of dollars in federal funding at risk.”
Lewis said the existing structure already breeds uncertainty.
“Uncertainty is a board that changes course every time there’s a new election in the governor’s mansion,” Lewis said.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., said Lewis’ amendment “is attempting to break apart the operating structure of a local [planning organization] seemingly to punish it.”
The Met Council’s structure has been controversial since its creation in the 1960s. Republican state legislators are advancing bills to replace the board with elected officials. Dayton vetoed a similar effort last year.
The federal government requires metro areas to have a planning organization to coordinate and plan for how the region doles out federal transportation funds. The law says they must include local elected officials, except for those operating under a state law passed before 1991.
In its decisions on which projects to fund, the council seeks recommendations from a transportation advisory board made up partly of local elected officials. But that board is not the designated planning organization for the Twin Cities.