It’s early for the 2017 Legislature — but on transportation, events are moving fast. Exhibit A was “No more delays; act on infrastructure funding now” (Jan. 13) from three major business groups and three major labor organizations. When such a broad coalition unites so early, this is little short of a Minnesota “Establishment” announcement. You can almost hear it blaring from a light rail PA system:
“Attention, legislators: Our platform may be slippery … but we’ve got a deal! To exit gridlock, push the green button on the train door ... er … the voting board … .”
We need a little tire kicking and a peak under the hood — but we must be realistic: something close to the “establishment” outline is likely to emerge. And as we’ll see, that isn’t all bad.
This is partly because there’s so much for Republicans to like. In the outline, most “new” revenue comes from dedicating existing transportation-related sales taxes. Most of the bells and whistles are tuned for GOP ears — “delivered efficiently … more done for less … innovative public/private project funding ... .” There’s bonding money — and with today’s low interest rates, Republicans like that, too.
But you can almost hear Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin and his well-heeled transinistas murmering among themselves: “And best of all — the numbers don’t add up. Republicans will love that!”
The LRT gang needs to understand what Abraham Linkedin said back during the early days of fake news: “You can fool all of the people all of the time … but only at the federal level.”
At the state level, GOP legislators have a peculiar preference, a principle if you will, for numbers that do add up. Some say they even want to spend taxpayer money wisely.
And here’s where that establishment platform gets very slippery indeed.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s ancient 2016 plan — painfully honest by today’s standards — was for $11.4 billion in new transportation spending over 10 years — including $2.9 billion for “transit” (mostly giant LRT boondoggles). Last Thursday’s establishment article offers up a $6 billion total over 10 years.
How did they do this? We don’t know — they really didn’t say — but here’s the biggest clue they left: Counties will be “allowed to lead in funding the buildout and operation of the metro transit system that is outside the network of regular bus routes.”
That’s the original Russian — here’s what this appears to mean:
We’ll dump new transit/LRT boondoggle spending in county budgets — that’s about 25 percent of Dayton’s $11.4 billion total. If and when the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) is dissolved (that’s McLaughin’s latest Hail Mary scheme) Hennepin and other counties believe they can legally raise county sales taxes for LRT boondoggles. We need to see more numbers — but the establishment’s $6 billion total appears to be a lowball number for state level spending only.
As noted, there are some good things about this plan. Within the establishment outline we can debate new ways to economize and fund all forms of transportation — including transit — in the coming years. Rep. Bob Loonan, R-Shakopee, is introducing legislation to form a legislative commission to study better reverse-commuting options — including bus-based and automated driving options (full disclosure: I’m working with him on this).
But in the meantime, we need to train our transparency spotlight on the now-obsolete, crazier-than-ever LRT boondoggles — and especially on Southwest Light Rail.
So let’s go with the establishment outline. But let’s dedicate the rest of this session to exposing and hopefully stopping the planned LRT boondoggles — starting with this real fact: If Southwest LRT construction ever does start, every overrun dollar will be 100 percent a state and local responsibility.
Bob “Again” Carney Jr., of Minneapolis, is a Republican activist.