In an incredible act of selfishness and foolhardiness, 84 mostly rural and conservative Minnesota legislators have further inflamed our state’s urban-rural divide by signing a letter asking the Trump administration to cancel a $929 million federal matching grant for the Southwest Light Rail project (“State Republicans urge feds to not fund SWLRT,” March 23).
What are these people thinking? This is a metro-region transportation project for which about $159 million has already been spent and which in its entirety will be mostly paid for by local taxing districts and federal grants. And, except for a handful of NIMBY homeowners in the Minneapolis Kenwood neighborhood who have shamelessly joined hands with the project’s detractors, it is overwhelmingly supported by citizens of the region. Funny, I must have missed the crumbling of the bedrock political mantra of “local control” incessantly and blatantly proclaimed in every conservative campaign since Minnesota was a state.
As someone who has a dog in this fight (I am investing more than $50 million in an apartment development located in Hopkins and directly on the Southwest-metro light-rail line), I have carefully followed the course of approvals for the project. According to the Metropolitan Council, over the past few years there have been 870 public meetings concerning the project attended by about 28,000 people, and the city councils of all cities along the line — Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie — support it. In addition, almost all of the funding for the project comes from local taxing districts, including the Counties Transit Improvement Board, the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority and a combination of city and county appropriations. The Legislature’s contribution to date is only $30 million (1.5 percent) of a nearly $2 billion infusion of transportation infrastructure.
Further, please spare us from the notion that not accepting the federal grant is somehow exhibiting fiscal discipline on behalf of your Minnesota constituents. As state representatives, it is not your job to fix the federal budget, and we all know that if that money doesn’t come here, it will go to another state with a more forward-looking transportation policy than our current Legislature is championing.
If that’s the way the 84 want to play, maybe the other 117 legislators should adopt a regional transportation funding system that would agree to allocate 1.5 percent of state tax dollars for new projects after the local taxing districts raise 98 percent of the costs through taxes or federal grants — assuming they want to accept them. Oh, and no worries about ongoing maintenance and operational costs such as the State Patrol — the state already covers those.
After all that, and the hundreds of construction jobs it will create — many, ironically, for workers who will drive into the metro from rural districts — and hundreds of millions more in ancillary development likely to follow along the line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, 84 of our 201 elected legislators want our state to give up an almost $1 billion federal grant in part, they say, because ongoing subsidies for operational costs will drain our transportation system of vital dollars. Surely they must be aware that the real reason our transportation funding system is unable to adequately maintain our roads and bridges is because for the last 30 years the Legislature has failed to appropriate enough dollars to keep those roads and bridges from disintegrating. To imply that the already dire condition of our transportation infrastructure will worsen because of spending on operational costs for the Southwest light-rail project is the epitome of fake news.
Kelly Doran is the owner and principal of Doran Companies, a commercial development, architectural, construction and management company based in Bloomington.