By: Jason Lewis
Just as soon as my amendment requiring the Metropolitan Council to include elected representatives on its board passed with a unanimous vote in the U.S. House, the special interests went to work.
But the predictable tirades from Gov. Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and, of course, the Star Tribune Editorial Board (“Feds shouldn’t mess with Met Council,” May 1) should be seen for what they are — the last gasps from an entrenched and concentrated power structure headed for the ash heap.
Not one Minnesota representative took to the House floor to oppose elected representation on the Met Council, yet behind the scenes the usual suspects were busying lobbying in Washington — despite the amended legislation receiving an overwhelming bipartisan vote.
Indeed, while average citizens who have to live under the rules of the Met Council cannot afford the time and expense to lobby in D.C., supporters of this unelected board may as well take up residence in the nation’s capital.
All because my amendment states that the Met Council should have an elected representative on its board. Radical, huh?
One elected representative to represent taxpayers on the only Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in the country that has the ability to independently raise taxes.
One elected representative on the largest MPO in the country (bigger than Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and 14 more of the 20 largest regional authorities’ budgets combined), whose total budget, including federal, state and local tax dollars, has gone from under $700 million to almost $1 billion in just the last decade.
To be sure, partisans for the unelected board are getting desperate — trotting out a few local officials who on the one hand cry federal interference and on the other contend my amendment would “threaten billions of dollars in federal funding to the metropolitan region.”
But even here, the council’s lobbying arm at Metro Cities apparently saw fit to actually change the text in the opinion piece published in the Star Tribune to criticize my amendment — after getting local officials to sign onto the submission (“No need to mess with the Metropolitan Council,” May 3).
Regardless, the Met Council long ago asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to classify it as a federally funded MPO — the roots of which trace back to a 1962 federal law. In 1991, Congress determined that these boards should include elected representation. That was reaffirmed in subsequent votes in 1998, 2005, 2012 and 2015.
And contrary to the more overwrought assertions, as other MPOs around the country came into compliance with these federal changes they were more than able to advance their transportation and infrastructure projects without any mass chaos.
The critics of reform also suggest that the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) suffices as an elected body. That didn’t even pass muster with the Federal Highway Administration, which in 2015 ruled: “The TAB is an advisory body to the Council [under state law]. The TAB is not designated as the MPO, and its membership is not consistent with [federal law].”
Or how about the silly notion that funds that have gone toward more-controversial transit projects, such as Southwest light rail, are really just flow-through transportation dollars directed by Congress or the state Legislature? Except that it is the Met Council and its so-called comprehensive plan(s) that wield the power to recommend these projects.
Not to mention policies dictating wastewater and sewer, rights of way, open space, parks and heavy-handed housing development goals for the entire region.
So why do the defenders of the status quo want all 16 members and the Met Council chair to be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the governor? Power, that’s why.
Dayton recently took to the airwaves (we really have to do something about the irresponsible rhetoric on talk radio) to slam his opponents on the issue — including me — as not knowing what they’re talking about.
That’s rich. If anyone has cornered the market on not knowing what he’s talking about, it’s the spendthrift governor who just a couple of years ago unilaterally more than doubled the salary of the Metropolitan Council chair from $58,499 to $123,000.
No wonder he and the apologists don’t want any accountability.
Jason Lewis, a Republican, represents Minnesota’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House.