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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Four GOP Legislators are Silent After Attempt to Sneak Funding for Mass Transit in Omnibus Bill

4/14/17 update: Representative Petersburg promises these mass transit bills will not be in the house transportation omnibus bill. However, the bills could be snuck into the capital investment omnibus bills because it does not have a bill authorship deadline like the others. Stay tuned.
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Right now the Republican Controlled Minnesota Legislature is working to pass their many different "Omnibus" Bills from everything from education to road funding. These are pieces of proposed legislation with dozens of individual bills that are grouped together by similarity to be passed in one floor vote to save time. Last week I covered the House and Senate Transportation omnibus bills, which both passed:
GOP Senate Passes $5.8 Billion Transportation Bill with $180 Million to Met Council & 
Mass Transit a Huge Raise
Vice Chair Rep. Petersburg Promises No Transit Bills in 2017 House Transportation Omnibus Bill

The next step is for these house and senate bills to meet in reconciliation in order to work on matching. When they do they'll go to the Governor to be signed into law.

This article is about the mass transit bills (Light Rail and Bus Corridors) that four of our Washington County GOP State Legislators attempted to sneak into the Republican transportation (roads and bridges) omnibus bills in the House and Senate. They crossed the aisle and joined 29 democrats in this effort. Thankfully, for the tax payers, their efforts to pass one over on the voters by hiding mass transit funding into road and bridge funding bills failed. If they respected the legislative process they would have put their bills through committee, personally defended the need to be funded by the entire state, and put them up as stand alone bills on the floor. They attempted to bypass all these checks and balances and sneak them into an omnibus bill as is common practice by the opposing democrat party. They could still try to sneak their bills into another omnibus bill like the capital investment. But we'll see. 


What's shocking is the fact that all four of these GOP legislators are from Washington County since there are 111 Republican legislators in the State.

All citizens benefit from state funded roads that are supported by Transportation omnibus bills. Not only for 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. At best, mass transit only serves immediate 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 in your arms. 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 transit lines that statistically very few people use? This is why republicans legislators do not allow transit bills to be hidden inside transportation omnibus bills. Yet four of our legislators broke with their fiscal conservative party principles and attempted to fund wasteful transit spending and worst, in this manner.


The bills and legislators are:
-HF2442/SF1767 - : $3 million for the Gateway Corridor/Gold Line Transit way funding. Senator Karin Housley, Republcan, 39B covering Forest Lake, Stillwater, and Lake Elmo has her name on the bill. (more on why the Gateway corridor is a bad idea here)
-HF2453 -: $3 million for the Gateway Corridor/ Gold Line. Representative Kelly Fenton, Republican, 53B covering Woodbury has her name on the bill. 
-HF2385/SF2260-$5,600,000 for the Red Rock Corridor transit way. Representative Tony Jurgens (R,54B,Cottage Grove, Afton, Hastings) and Representative Keith Franke (R,54A,New Port, Cottage Grove) have their names on the bill.  (more on why the Red Rock Corridor is a bad idea here)

The RINO (republican in name only) Representative Fenton, Senator Housley, Representative Jurgens (elected 2016), and Representative Franke (elected 2016) apparently do not understand the four mass transit 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. 
I told them:"If 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." 

I asked them each four questions and gave them over a week to respond. All four refused to answer these questions (some worded differently depending on recipient):
For Representative Kelly Fenton1.) I see your name is on HF2453 to fund the $420 million dollar Gateway Corridor/Gold Line Corridor Bus "Rapid" Transit project $3 million tax dollars. Money that would keep this $420 million dollar, 9 mile bus route to wind down the side streets from Woodbury to St. Paul alive. That's $46.6 million per mile to make a negligible impact (if any) in congestion. Just 5% decrease if you use the corridor's 2040 ridership prediction with today's I-94 traffic volume. Retired MNDOT highway planer Frank Pafko has stated numerous times in the media that "it only costs $5-$10 million per mile to add a lane of freeway or highway." $10 million a mile for inner city freeway like I-94. In 2011 he and MNDOT had a plan to add a lane, a MN-Pass lane, it was tabled by Dayton and the DFL. Metro Transit has a $9 million dollar alternative to the Gold Line.  With all the evidence showing the Gold line will be another failed BRT corridor what evidence do you have to justify putting your name on a bill to fund this bus line rather than a more affordable and a more utilized added lane or Metro Transit line? (There is already an express bus route, regular bus routes, Metro Mobility, and other forms of public transit in your district.)
  2.) This year there are 111 GOP legislators in MN. You and only 3 others decided to leave the party platform of fiscal conservative values and author failed mass transit bills. Please read Representative Hertaus's comment:"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.Why did you go against your party's pledge of fiscal responsibility to support this corridor? 
3.) In the time since you last authored a bill to fund the Gateway Corridor you found yourself challenged in the primary by a fiscal Conservative and Air Force Veteran who opposed the Gold Line named Steve Ellenwood. Also, Lake Elmo saw the corridor was so bad for them they kicked the Corridor out; coincidentally after I hand wrote to over 100 residents who attend city council meetings in the past. Nearby Oakdale residents also made it clear they don't want the corridor: http://alphanewsmn.com/oakdale-residents-speak-out-against-the-485-million-bus-route/ To be clear, for 60 people in opposition to show up when I've never seen more than two or three show up in support of any Washington County Corridor meeting is huge. Nearby Representative Lohmer stated the only people she is aware of supporting the Gateway Corridor are people who will profit from it's construction. So with all this open opposition and not one true fiscal conservative that I know of who supports this corridor with any facts...  Why do you fight your constituents so hard on this and continue to support it only during off election years? 
4.) The latest news is President Trump is killing the $100 billion left in spending for the new starts grant program. This program is how transit projects have been funded in the US. This would have funded half the money for the Gateway corridor and Red Rock Corridor and all the others in Minnesota. Why author a controversial bill to fund a terrible corridor that is circling the drain and having the federal funds pulled out from under it? 
For Senator Karin Housley (Only the questions that differ from the 4 above are repeated):3.) When you last authored a bill to fund the Gateway Corridor your last Constituent base with land touching the Gold line was in Lake Elmo. Since this time, they withdrew their support. Coincidentally after I hand wrote to over 100 residents of Lake Elmo the truth about the "pro-growth" corridor:  Lake Elmo has kicked the Gateway Corridor out. Afton (in your district) voted years ago not to allow the corridor on their side of I-94. So you no longer have constituents land that will be directly "served" by the corridor. One could argue your constituents oppose the corridor based on the fact they voted no to the corridor in their LPA. Representative Lohmer, who shares half your district, stated the only people she is aware of supporting the Gateway Corridor are people who will profit from it's construction. If you have bi-partisan constituents who are against the Transit Oriented Devolpment (TOD) that the Gold Line would bring and the Gold Line is out of your district now... why are you the author of this bill for the Gold Line?  
For Representative Tony Jurgens (Only the questions that differ from the 4 above are repeated):
1.) Before the election and even after you and Representative Franke have refused multiple times from multiple outlets to say whether or not you were for or against the Red Rock Corridor. In the final days of forming a transportation omnibus bill I see your name and Franke's is on HF2385 to give $5,600,000 to the un-elected Metropolitan Council who will funnel it to the nightmare Red Rock Corridor. (Red Rock Corridor Faces Delays as 7 Facts Become Undeniable.) Money that would keep what's left of this terrible idea alive. Seeing that the corridor failed to meet the minimum requirement for the feds to fund the corridor the County planners had to ditch the millions wasted on the original plan. Their solution was to go to Metro Transit's (Service Improvement Plan) book and pick out a rejected route they had for Cottage Grove, fund it, and call it the Red Rock Corridor. (Red Rock Corridor Plan Falls Apart Now Wants to be Called Route 363) A member of the Hasting's city council said they wouldn't even be alive by the time the corridor reached your district in Hastings (2040 earliest).  With all the evidence showing the Red Rock Corridor is a terrible idea, what evidence do you have to justify putting your name on a bill to fund this bus line that's not in your district rather than a more affordable and a more utilized added lane or leave it to the professionals of Metro Transit?

3.) Your predecessor, former Representative Denny McNamara (Republican) supported the Red Rock Corridor. It appeared to end his political career as he had filed to run for re-election; but for some reason found himself the day before the filing deadline handing the opportunity to you (campaign backers dried up?). Since this time, the Red Rock Corridor is going along with a Route 363 plan that will barely touch your district. The Red Rock Corridor has become nothing more than funding for a rejected Metro Transit Route 363, renamed the Red Rock Corridor. Why are you threatening support from your fiscal conservative base and all the bi-partisan constituents in your district who won't see the corridor reach them by the earliest estimation of 2040? There is already express bus routes, Metro Mobility, the Hastings Loop bus, and other forms of public transit in your district. 

For Representative Keith Franke (Only the questions that differ from the 4 above are repeated):1.) Before the election and even after you and Representative Jurgens have refused multiple times from multiple outlets to say whether or not you were for or against the Red Rock Corridor. In the final days of forming a transportation omnibus bill I see your name and Jurgen's on HF2385 to give $5,600,000 to the un-elected Metropolitan Council who will funnel it to the nightmare Red Rock Corridor. (Red Rock Corridor Faces Delays as 7 Facts Become Undeniable.) Money that would keep what's left of this terrible idea alive. Seeing that the corridor failed to meet the minimum requirement for the feds to fund the corridor the County planners had to ditch the millions wasted on the original plan. Their solution was to go to Metro Transit's (Service Improvement Plan) book and pick out a rejected route they had for Cottage Grove, fund it, and call it the Red Rock Corridor. (Red Rock Corridor Plan Falls Apart Now Wants to be Called Route 363).  With all the evidence showing the Red Rock Corridor is a terrible idea, what evidence do you have to justify putting your name on a bill to fund this bus line rather than a more affordable and a more utilized added lane or leave it to the professionals of Metro Transit? Consider the massive failure of Newport Transit Station, $6.45 million, No Riders, and No Surprise in your district.
3.) In the next district over from yours, former Representative  Denny McNamara (Republican) supported the Red Rock Corridor. It appeared to end his political career as he had filed to run for re-election; but for some reason found himself the day before the filing deadline handing the opportunity to Tony Jurgens (campaign backers dried up?). Since this time, the Red Rock Corridor has become nothing more than funding for a rejected Metro Transit Route 363, renamed the Red Rock Corridor. Why are you threatening support from your fiscal conservative base and all the bi-partisan constituents in your district who see this corridor is a failure and a burden to tax payers? There is already express bus routes, Metro Mobility, and other forms of public transit in your district. 

None of them responded. If they do, we'll update the article here.
-Matt Behning