Time’s the legislator

A fine batch of sausage

It turns out I may have misjudged Mike Beard when I accused him of being a fundamentalist ideologue; instead it seems he’s a energetic, charismatic and persuasive fundamentalist ideologue.  That of course makes him a much more dangerous opponent for transit riders; while he has not yet exactly confirmed my accusation that he is trying to destroy transit in the Twin Cities, it seems that even he would admit that he is trying to radically transform it, or at least its financing and governance.

My newfound respect or fear of Mike Beard comes from watching House Transportation Policy and Finance committee meetings.  I’ve never taken the drastic step of viewing legislative proceedings before, but the unusually high number of anti-transit bills in this session led me to tape my eyelids and hope for the best.  The fruit of my boredom is the following short summary of most of the transit related bills that got a hearing this year.  I didn’t view any hearings on their Senate companions (if they have them) because the Senate only offers audio, and apparently I need the eye candy of watching the sausage being made (metaphors have rarely been so disgustingly mixed).  As such, my summaries will be skewed from a House perspective.  At this point in the session some of these bills appear stalled, but I think they will benefit from wider public awareness, i.e. people googling “sausage” and getting this post in the results.

HF2685 Metro Transit service fare increases required  This bill as described in my last Beard-bashing post was killed, but in a twist of the knife has been appropriated as a vehicle for an omnibus transportation bill (but not the omnibus transportation policy bill, which you’ll see is below).  The bill contains some other heinous provisions that I’ll describe below, but does not as of writing contain the transit-slashing vindictive fare increase.

HF2852 Distance-based transit fare surcharge pilot program established for replacement service transit providers  It’s not necessarily a bad idea to use a distanced-based or “zone” fare system, but the language in this bill only allows an increase in fare for distance, which could be a problem for short-distance express service.  This bill has been incorporated into the omnibus transportation bill, so it has a pretty good chance of passing.

HF2473 Transportation public-private partnership pilot program and related regulations established  The Legislature is graciously allowing MnDot to propose a public-private partnership with a selected private company, but not to accept a public-private partnership that a private company proposes out of the blue.  The bill actually suggests a project for the pilot program, the Mississippi River crossing that would connect I-94 to US-10 near Clearwater, but I mention it here because the bill ignores a potential application to transit, although it doesn’t expressly forbid it.

HF2387 Greater Minnesota transit funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated  There’s usually some fairly general bond money for Greater Minnesota transit in the bonding bill; this bill would have provided $10m, but that got shrunk to $2.5m in the final House version.  The Senate seems to have upped it to $4m, and I’d guess it will end up around there.

HF2321 Metropolitan transit service opt-outs authorized  DFLer Bev Scalze makes this session’s transit-wacking bipartisan with her bill to reopen opt-outs for suburban municipalities.  She got sympathy from the committee for her dissatisfaction with her community’s transit service, and this bill has been incorporated into the omnibus transportation bill listed above as HF2685.  I would like to take this opportunity to conjecture that Rep. Scalze has never taken the bus, or else she perhaps would have not introduced this bill that is guaranteed to make Twin Cities transit more confusing.

HF2271 Minneapolis to Duluth high speed passenger rail funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated  Alas, ’twas not to be funded, but just about every DFLer with a district along the proposed route signed as an author.

HF2155 Central corridor light rail line property valuation increases limited  Here’s a fun one – legislatively limiting the increase in property values caused by Central LRT.  Of course, they’re only limiting the increase in taxable value, not sale value.  No one wants any pain with their pleasure, I guess.  The Senate version actually got referred to the committee on Taxes, but the House version is just sitting there.

HF1284 Omnibus Transportation Policy  Bus use of shoulders is expanded by this bill, both in terms of where and how fast.  On the where side, authority will be given to counties and cities to allow buses to use shoulder on roads that they own.  On the how fast side, MnDot will be able to raise the speed limit for buses on shoulders in specific locations after conducting a study, which would have prevented the bullshit reasoning for restriping a bus shoulder as a general traffic lane and arguing that it will improve bus speed.

HF1943 Metropolitan Council transit funding provisions modified and HF2696 Metropolitan Council; formula changed for assistance to cities and towns with replacement transit service  Mike Beard worked tenaciously this year to redistribute funds from Metro Transit to suburban opt-outs; one of his efforts took the form of HF1943, which attempts to restore cuts that the Met Council made to opt-out funding as a method of dealing with their own budget cuts.  In the March 7th meeting, Met Council Gov’t Affairs Director Judd Schetnan responded by pointing out that most of the opt-outs had reserves equaling 150% of their annual budgets, implying that they could whether these cuts relatively easily.  HF1943 doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, perhaps because Beard found a better way to redistribute money to the suburbs in HF2696.  This bill nearly doubles the amount of MVST money that goes to opt-outs, and has been included in HF2685, which looks likely to pass.

This being a bonding year, there were also many transit projects that got their own capital funding bills, including NLX, Bottineau, Southwest, a park-and-ride in Maple Grove, a transit center in Duluth (rehab of the gorgeous Depot maybe?), the Lake Street transit station, and many more.  None were included in the bonding bills, which only nodded to transit in the House’s version, which included $1m for upgrades to track between St Paul and Hopkins, potentially for use on Red Rock commuter rail or “HSR” to Chicago.  The final bonding bills may change in the conference committee, though, so now’s the time to contact your legislator and ask they listen to the extraordinary popular support for the Southwest Transitway.

Finally, the instrument of Mike Beard’s divine vengeance on Metro Transit is a bill that seems to not yet be introduced, but to which Beard devoted an entire meeting of his committee, and which has gotten some attention at MinnPost and the Strib.  His proposal is to create a transportation planning agency separate of the Met Council and to fund it through property taxes (again) instead of the general fund.  Since it hasn’t yet been introduced, I doubt it will pass this session, which gives me more time to formulate my thoughts on it.  Look for another Beard-bashing post here in the next couple weeks.

The future of transit in Minnesota?

4 comments on “Time’s the legislator

  1. […] in those bills that affect the state’s transit landscape, so here is a bowdlerized version of a summary from my personal blog.  Warning: I am not a lawyer, and only a dabbler in the dark art of local politics, so feel free […]

  2. Tcmetro says:

    Beard’s great at stalling light rail. He ran the Regional Transit Board in the 80s and 90s that didn’t get around to light rail, but did propose a number of low-frequency mall-to-mall express buses. Apparently, Metro Transit shouldn’t actively be planning future transit lines.

    • Alex says:

      Huh, I didn’t know that. No wonder he wants to bring that structure back. Right, it sounds so logical – separate the planners from the ones that will actually operate the system, just in case they might be corrupted by knowledge of actual conditions.

  3. […] to bump up the frequency before Central LRT starts rolling to placate Bev Scalze, who introduced a bill this session to gut Metro Transit funding in order to further the balkanization of regional […]

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