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Friday, March 31, 2017

GOP Senate Passes $5.8 Billion Transportation Bill with $180 Million to Met Council & Mass Transit a Huge Raise



The $90 million a year ($180M total) from the general fund to the Met C is a raise of nearly $20 million according to the Met C's 2015 budget report that stated they received $82 million a year for transit from the General Fund. No one has contacted me to refute this data I believe is accurate.






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Last night on March 30th the 
4rth version of the $5.8 billion Senate Transportation Omnibus bill 
SF1060 passed 38-28. Today the House version is up for a vote. It's great legislators were able to pass a bill to support our "roads and bridges"; however, within it was hundreds of millions in NON-road and bridge related pork for the Met Council ($180 MILLION!), airports, bike paths, walking trails, radio communication, government buildings, and more. For weeks we have been asking GOP Senators (who hold the senate majority) to comment on this pork with no response. We also have received little feedback about the $1.6 billion dollar Senate bonding bill that is also full of pork. The only response is they will not be taking one cent out of the bill:


 $1.6 BILLION 2017 Bonding Bill. Legislators Say They Refuse to Cut Any Pork.

photo credit www.senate.mn

Thankfully where fiscal common  sense and respect for party principle lacks in the Senate GOP in every area of their bill, there is hope in the GOP controlled house version of this Transportation Omnibus Bill. However, it resides only in the significantly less funding for the Met C ($61.5 million vs the Senate's $180 million). This house companion bill to the senate's version is HF861. It is the 4rth and final version and up for a vote today. Some details could change before the approval with last minute amendments adding on even more pork. However, before either bill can move forward to the Governor's office they have to match. Here's some of the differences that stood out that I could find:

The Senate Transportation Omnibus bill SF1060 and it's 4rth version passed 38-28 yesterday:
$5.8 billion total.  All the sums are for spending over just two years (2018 &2019)
$180.6 million to the un-elected Metropolitan Council where historically HALF their budget or more is funneled WITHOUT legislative approval to build our failed Mass transit corridors that cost MN tax payers billions!
$54.4 million for Airports... (didn't realize subsidizing for profit airports was in the constitution as a core function of Government)
$41 million for agency management buildings (are they building roads or buildings for themselves?)

The House Transportation Omnibus Bill HF861 and it's 4rth and final version is up for a vote today:
$5.8 billion total. All the sums are for spending over just two years (2018 &2019)
$61.5 million for the un-elected Metropolitan Council... this lower number than $180 million from the senate is responsible because it will neutralize the over reaching power of Met Council for planning road corridors. More details here: Why One Body (MNDOT) to Run State Transportation Planning Would be Best for MN Taxpayers
$65.2 million for Airports... (Again, didn't realize subsidizing for profit airports was in the constitution as a core function of Government)
$57.9 million for agency management buildings (Again, are they building roads or buildings for themselves?)

The Senate's $180 million in funding to the Met Council is a $20 million dollar raise from the last funding for them. This is a slap in the face for fiscal conservatives who elected these GOP senators and have trusted them to do as they promised and take money and power from the Met Council. Representative Zerwas agrees, stating on AM1130 that the original reason and sole purpose the Met Council was originally founded was because the State didn't want Twin City's local governments building redundant sewer systems between each other!
My one small, blue collar, citizen run, not for profit, free, blog can not influence the Fiscal Conservative legislators to wake up and return to their principles they ran on to get elected. Only you can motivate them by contacting them. Please do so now and in the future.

I told the legislators:
"If you can't align against failed mass transit it's easy to predict a repeat of 2011 when the GOP did nothing to reform wasteful transit spending, the un-elected met council, and actually did the opposite and funded horrible transit lines like the Red Rock Corridor and Gateway Corridor with direct funding.... As you know the GOP lost the house and Senate the following year. When this session is again a failure to cut something simple as failed mass transit spending and Met Council reform I predict a similar defeat for the Republican legislature AND the Governor's seat." 

But don't lose hope in the republicans yet fiscal conservatives. 84 Republican legislators signed a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to stop the two billion dollar SWLRT corridor that even rural democrats agree is waste of tax dollars.

Republican Representative Jerry Hertaus' comment he provided me several months ago summarizes the extreme waste our failed Transit system is:
"I don't think it was necessarily the legislature's intent to provide an unlimited open checkbook to subsidize at an "unkown" number of rail lines at an unkown cost. Extending the current losses funded by the legislature to the six additional proposed MetC lines would suggest (by my own calculations) the current $55 million of losses would triple to $165 million. This promises to be an endless obligation and when shouldered up against the talked about 10 year transportation funding plan, this would be a $1.65 billion dollar funding shortfall, not to mention a likely $12 BILLION dollars to construct the lines. This totals by my estimation, $13.65 billion for LRT over the next 10 years compared to $6 billion over the same period for all of our roads and bridges statewide. This is more than DOUBLE the expenditure for less than 3% of total ridership assuming the LRT ridership doubles over the same period. Further, these losses will starve the general fund for other constitutionally mandated responsibilities such as education, transportation, judiciary and public safety and will ultimately lead to yet higher taxes.

-Matt Behning


Vice Chair Rep. Petersburg Promises No Transit Bills in 2017 House Transportation Omnibus Bill

The fifth reading of this House transportation omnibus bill passed. It appears the bill is intact without major changes making the article below still accurate. Now the GOP lead Senate and the House have to find middle ground. The bill passed 76-54.
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The Senate version of the House Transportation Bill is
 SF1060 and it's 4rth version passed 38-28 yesterday on 3/30. Article here: GOP Senate Passes $5.8 Billion Transportation Bill with $180 Million to Met Council & Mass Transit a Huge Raise


This article is about the House Transportation Omnibus Bill HF861 and it's 4rth and final version that is up for a vote today 3/31. On 3/29 they heard petitions to add projects to the bill, 9 were mass transit bills. So I wrote our elected officials who oversee the 2017 Transportation Omnibus Bill these 5 questions. I got one response so far from Representative John Petersburg, Vice Chair of the House Transportation and Finance Committee.
photo credit MN House "Session Daily"

1.) Why are inappropriate "mass transit" bills proposed to be in a "transportation" (roads and bridges) omnibus bill? I've yet to meet a tax payer who didn't agree that failed mass transit bills should be stand alone bills and not hidden in any omnibus bill. 2.) Many of the 9 mass transit project bills proposed were just authored on March 20th... I thought the deadline was March 8th to author bills? 3.) The 9 mass transit bills, whether in the omnibus or not, COMPLETELY bypassed the checks and balances of committee hearings for citizens to comment with their outrage that the legislature would consider funding the continuation of these nightmares and even starting new lines! 4.) They're "not taking public comment" at this March 29th hearing that we just found out about on the 27th. We found with the omnibus bonding bills it's basically impossible to get a bill out once it's put in. No matter how bad of a bill it is: $1.6 BILLION 2017 Bonding Bill. Legislators Say They Refuse to Cut Any Pork.5.) If the elections of 2014 and 2016 have one thing to say for MN politics (republicans gained the House and later the Senate) it is voters are upset with the un-elected Met Council getting money like this to fund the corridors and it's time to stop building failed transit lines. How or when do you plan to stop all 9 of these transit bills from the over 50 bills proposed for this Omnibus bill? 

The process of an omnibus bill (a piece of legislation with dozens of similar funding requests, aka bills) becoming law is complicated to say the least. You can watch all the "School house Rock" videos on How a bill becomes a law and read all the articles you can and you'll still find it hard to understand it all because it's very unpredictable. This post is another attempt, as your blue collar, average Joe tax payer like you, to explain what I have discovered this session about our omnibus bills from my fiscal conservative point of view. I'm not a lobbyist. Nor do I, or this blog Washington County Watchdog, make money or gain anything, nor do we endorse anyone. In my last post I explained the ridiculous 2017 Senate Omnibus Bonding bill: $1.6 BILLION 2017 Bonding Bill. Legislators Say They Refuse to Cut Any Pork.

This article I write to explain my findings with the 2017 House Transportation Omnibus Bill that was just heard in an "informational" hearing on 3/29/17. As a fiscal conservative I watch our Washington County Legislators work at the Capital. As you may know, the Republicans have a majority in the House and the Senate now. Both chambers write and pass (or reject) bills "on the floor" with the requirement that they have matching language (or terms) before they go to the Governor to sign into Law. When republicans hold the majority of one side of the legislature the expectation of their constituents is that they author fiscally responsible bills. 

I was shocked to find the 2017 House Transportation (roads and bridges) Omnibus Bill was considering the addition of 9 Mass transit (light rail or bus) bills. This upsets fiscal conservatives because we believe in the original checks and balances design of the legislative process. That is, one bill, one vote. Where ideally each bill is presented and debated (if it survives committee hearings) and each is voted on as a "stand alone bill". However, that is not possible when you have a State with thousands of miles of highways so these similar transportation bills are put into one big omnibus. But it's not okay when legislators attempt to sneak unrelated bills into an unrelated omnibus bill. Coincidentally, four of our Washington County Republican Legislators have done just that (more later). 

All citizens benefit from state funded roads as not only personal transport, but also delivery of goods and services. Mass transit (light rail and bus rapid transit) do not benefit the residents of the state tax payers. At best, mass transit only serves residents along the short length of the corridors that are usually less than 20 miles long in Minnesota. They don't deliver goods and services and they don't transport you if you have more than you can carry on and off. Generous estimates state that only 4% of just Twin City metro commutes are by Mass Transit. Statewide, less than a fraction of 1%. So why should tax dollars meant for roads and bridges go to fund a transit line that statistically very few people use? 




There's over 50 Bills proposed for the 2017 House Transportation Omnibus bill; but these are the 9 mass transit bills that could have been hidden within:
The 9 transit bills have 33 authors. All except 4 of the authors are democrats who apparently do not understand the four corridors that have been built in Minnesota have cost tax payers billions yet have had no impact on decreasing road congestion or meeting expectations for job growth etc. The 4 republican authors are all from Washington County (The RINO (republican in name only) Representative Fenton, Senator Housley, Representative Jurgens (elected 2016), and Representative Franke (elected 2016)).

-HF2442(Ward)/SF1767 (Kent, Housley)- : $3 million for the Gateway Corridor Transitway funding   (more on Gateway corridor here)-HF2453 - (Fenton): $3 million for the Gateway Corridor Busway 
-HF2385 - (Franke, Jurgens)/SF2260 (Schoen): $5,600,000 to the Metropolitan Council for Red Rock Corridor transitway (more on Red Rock Corridor here)
-HF539 - (Fischer)/ SF463 (Hawj): $2,000,000 for Ramsey County; Rush Line Corridor Transitway funding  (Rush line corridor serves such a rural area it can barely justify the peak service express bus route up to Forest Lake etc. Yet they think we need a BRT corridor making multiple trips all day?)
-HF134 - (Mahoney, Fischer; Johnson, S.)/ SF89 (Hawj): Ramsey County;$1,000,000 for environmental analysis and design of track between Westminster Junction and Division Street/Hoffman Interlocking. East Metro Rail Corridor funding (more on the failed Union Depot not getting half the riders predicted 5 years ago)
-HF436 - (Carlson, Hausman; Slocum; Masin; Hornstein)/ SF202(Wiklund; Rest; Clausen) $9,750,000 is appropriated from the bond proceeds fund to the Metropolitan Council for the Mall of America Station on the Hiawatha Corridor light rail transit station improvement (a bigger better station isn't going to bring riders see North Star Corridor)-HF856 - (Pinto, Hausman; Youakim)/ SF1188(Cohen; Kent; Pappas): $2,000,000 for a grant to the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority for predesign and design activities of the Riverview Corridor Transitway from the Union Depot in the city of St. Paul to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America in the city of Bloomington. (This corridor is such a bad idea it hasn't even got the time of day to really begin in the over 9 years CTIB has been around to approve new transit corridor builds)-HF590 - (Koegel; Bernardy; Slocum; Hilstrom; Murphy, M.; Nelson; Ecklund; Hornstein; Hausman; Hortman) SF176 (Newton; Hoffman): $1,000,000 to the Metropolitan Council for a grant to the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority for environmental analysis, design, engineering, negotiations with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, acquisition of real property or interests in real property, and construction of related infrastructure and other improvements of a capital nature for the Foley Boulevard Northstar commuter rail station. Anoka County; Foley Boulevard Northstar commuter rail station funding. (The $350 million dollar failure of the Northstar Corridor. Adding the multi-million dollar Ramsey station saw a 17% drop in ridership after construction (compare 2012 to 2013 MNDOT Guideway status report data), the multi-million dollar Fridley station also failed to boost the downward spiral of ridership, lower ticket prices, "free" rides to any and every major event like twins and vikings games and on holidays also failed... put a fork in this line and stop adding to it!)-HFXXXX (Haley) appropriating money for a study for the Chicago-Twin Cities passenger rail corridor; authorizing the sale and issuance of state bonds. (The Amtrak line to Chicago from Union depot is barely hanging on, so lets study another corridor just to be sure we know it's a failure?) 

I got one response so far from Representative John Petersburg, Vice Chair of the House Transportation and Finance Committee. His response was short, yet informative:

"I can tell you with certainty they will not be in the bill as it leaves the House.  Whereas there is never guarantees to anything at the capitol, I can tell you with some certainty, it would be hard for any one of them to make it into any other omnibus bills.  Since they haven't made deadline, they are generally dead for this year.  Hope that lowers your concern."

Expect a follow up article about our four Republican State Legislators authoring failed Mass transit bills. We sent them Four simple questions about their decision to do this and leaving them with the comment:

"I
f you can't align with the party against failed mass transit it's easy to predict a repeat of 2011 when the GOP did nothing to reform wasteful transit spending, the un-elected met council, and actually did the opposite and funded horrible transit lines like the Red Rock Corridor and Gateway Corridor with direct funding as your bills this session request.... As you know the GOP lost the house and Senate the following year. When this session is again a failure to cut something simple as failed mass transit spending and Met Council reform I predict a similar defeat for the Republican legislature AND the Governor's seat." 

But don't lose hope in the republicans yet fiscal conservatives. 84 Republican legislators signed a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to stop the two billion dollar SWLRT corridor that even rural democrats agree is waste of tax dollars.

Republican Representative Jerry Hertaus' comment he provided me several months ago summarizes the extreme waste our failed Transit system is:
"I don't think it was necessarily the legislature's intent to provide an unlimited open checkbook to subsidize at an "unkown" number of rail lines at an unkown cost. Extending the current losses funded by the legislature to the six additional proposed MetC lines would suggest (by my own calculations) the current $55 million of losses would triple to $165 million. This promises to be an endless obligation and when shouldered up against the talked about 10 year transportation funding plan, this would be a $1.65 billion dollar funding shortfall, not to mention a likely $12 BILLION dollars to construct the lines. This totals by my estimation, $13.65 billion for LRT over the next 10 years compared to $6 billion over the same period for all of our roads and bridges statewide. This is more than DOUBLE the expenditure for less than 3% of total ridership assuming the LRT ridership doubles over the same period. Further, these losses will starve the general fund for other constitutionally mandated responsibilities such as education, transportation, judiciary and public safety and will ultimately lead to yet higher taxes.


-Matt Behning






Saturday, March 18, 2017

Washington County Senator Roger Chamberlain Presents a $900 Million Tax Relief Plan

On March 16th, one of Washington County's senators, Roger Chamberlain the Senate Tax Chair, presented the GOP $900 Million tax relief plan. Senator Chamberlain has a 100% rating from the tax payers league of Minnesota for his fiscal conservative record. This tax plan provides three times the relief on Governor Dayton's tax plan.

According to Senator Chamberlain's presentation, the $900 million in relief is focused on the middle class with the following points that are listed in greater detail than you'll find from the main stream media:
  • Everyone who pays income taxes will receive a break. That's 2.3 million people or 81% of Minnesotans.
  • This is the first permanent cut in 17 years
  • Phase out the social security tax. 38 states do not tax SS. This change could benefit 350,000 Minnesota seniors.
  • Provide a student loan repayment tax credit. Focus will be on a tax deduction.  
  • Exemption from State wide business property tax for first $100,000 in Market Value for main street businesses and end the automatic increase of the tax.
  • Property tax credit for agricultural property so farmers don't pay inordinate amount on school property tax levies.
                         -Small school districts have troubling passing levies because taxes fall                                      disproportionately on farmers.
                         -A farmer spoke and said his school district passed a $19.8 million dollar                                 levy and his taxes went up $12,000/year.
  • Increase incentive for small business to purchase new equipment by adjusting Section 179. Allowing taxed equipment to have a higher depreciation rate (thus lower tax).
  • Change estate tax so large property owners like farmers have more to pass on to the next generation of farmers.

Senator Chamberlain was asked by the media if the tax relief will be for the rich. His response was "The benefit goes mostly to lower income tax payers by percentage. The lower income will get a bigger kick out of this." Going on to state the numbers they're looking at show the lowest income tax payers will see a 8.6% reduction in taxes and the wealthiest a 1.2% reduction.

"The economy in our State is flat and the labor market is stagnant" Said Senator Chamberlain. "It's time to give the money and relief to the workers in the State. Give it to the citizens who generate economic growth."

Our other GOP Senator from Washington County is Senator Karin Housley. She provided this quote on the tax plan "The MN Senate Republicans have put forth a great tax relief bill, the first to lower tax rates in 17 years. I will lighten the household pocketbook for over 80% of Minnesotans. I heard over and over during the campaign that besides fixing our roads and bridges and lowering health insurance costs, tax relief is what the voters wanted. With this proposal, they will get it."

This tax plan appears promising and much needed relief for all tax paying Minnesotans. From farmers, to business owners, to employees, the elderly, and those with student loans like myself. I pay $600 a month in student loans. Talking to co-workers who also have four year degrees and student loans, most are paying around $800 a month for their student loans. We're responsible to pay the loans back; however it's frustrating to see federal loans profit with 7% interest charges like a credit card rate. This GOP tax plan will essentially return some of this government taxed money with a level of tax deduction on the student loan payment. This will be welcomed relief for tax payers who are not looking for a handout, rather a way out of student debt. 

It's great to see the MN Senate GOP come up with a fiscally responsible tax plan. However, it's concerning the Senate GOP budget plan is not pushing for a decrease in the budget; rather a 9% increase, to which Dayton will surely demand middle ground far above this. Lastly the Senate GOP Bonding bill is also against the grain of the GOP platform:
List of Tens of Millions in Pork in 2017 Bonding Bill

Also:
 $1.6 BILLION 2017 Bonding Bill. Legislators Say They Refuse to Cut Any Pork.GOP Senate Passes $5.8 Billion Transportation Bill with $180 Million to Met Council & Mass Transit a Huge RaiseVice Chair Rep. Petersburg Promises No Transit Bills in 2017 House Transportation Omnibus BillFour GOP Legislators are Silent After Attempt to Sneak Funding for Mass Transit in Omnibus Bill  Four Reasons Rep. Kelly Fenton was a Terrible Choice for a Republican Assistant Majority Leader  


-Matt Behning

Friday, March 10, 2017

Why One Body (MNDOT) to Run State Transportation Planning Would be Best for MN Taxpayers

Washington County resident Linda Stanton's testimony in support of HF2000/ SF1822. Photos from Washington County Watchdog and not part of the original testimony.

As a taxpayer and citizen I am writing to say how frustrated I am to see unrealistic policies and plans carried out using our hard-earned dollars by the MET Council (MC). For instance, the Gateway Corridor/Gold Line, a planned EBRT (Exclusive guide way Bus Rapid Transit) to extend into Oakdale and Woodbury, where there is little or no regular bus service at present. To go from nothing to “light rail on wheels” based on overblown growth projections is mis-guided at best. We already have a very successful Express Bus during rush hour, as well as, Metro Mobility and Transit Link.

The County takes our tax money and hires a lobbyist ($150,000 contract) to lobby the Legislature to push this taxpayer boondoggle. Our group is just VOTERS with no money to donate to campaigns, but enough to print fliers and time to come to the Legislature and try to make our case.





Gateway Corridor vs Metro Transit: 

How State's $9 million Route Upgrade 

Could Replace the Gateway Corridor

When a person tries to talk to the County or City officials about wasting our dollars on a $420 Million dollar project one gets lost in a maze of money pots – Federal, County, Railroad etc. etc. That’s when I start to pull my hair because it’s ALL OUR tax money. I don’t care what POT it comes from! Transit could be improved at much less cost by using existing roadways and a little creativity.

Not only that, the county officials and planners use our tax dollars to have expensive, up-to-date websites, videos, take trips around the country to see other transit lines, or check in with their transit partners in DC.

And all the while, we hear about bridges in dis-repair, highways with too many fatalities that have not been repaired in a timely fashion. To top it off, the County Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) and MC had the nerve to tell the Legislature:  the STATE will PAY for 50% of operating costs for the life of all transit lines, if CTIB disbands.

I am all in favor of having ONE body in control of the purse strings: the elected officials in our Legislature. It should be the elected Reps and Senators telling the Met Council and CTIB what we can afford, not the other way around.  The transfer of transportation planning from the MET Council to MN DOT by HF2000 would help taxpayers gain control over government spending.

Linda Stanton, Chair - Citizens for Smart Transit

related articles:
GOP Senate Passes $5.8 Billion Transportation Bill with $180 Million to Met Council & Mass Transit a Huge Raise