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Friday, March 31, 2017

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.
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?) 

we 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:

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.