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I wish I could say that I’m surprised that the St. Cloud Times Editorial Board is recommending Republicans cave into the DFL’s transportation plan:

Finally and fortunately, Minnesotans have enough details from legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton to weigh in on what they want for transportation funding statewide in the next 10 years.

House Republicans this week put forth their proposal, which spends $7 billion through tapping the state surplus, borrowing, increased efficiencies and spending general-fund money now used in other state programs. It’s unclear which programs would be cut, but it amounts to $3 billion in 10 years. The plan does not raise taxes. It also does much less for public transit than Dayton’s plan.

I can’t dispute the fact that the Republicans’ plan doesn’t do much for “public transit.” I can’t deny it because it’s designed not to do much for “public transit.” The GOP plan tells the Met Council that it’s responsible for metro transit.

That’s only fair because light rail isn’t a big thing in outstate Minnesota. If the Twin Cities wants light rail, let the Twin Cities fund that.

Here are some suggestions to make this much-needed initiative a reality by session’s end in mid-May:

New revenues (also known as taxes and user fees) are more forthright and stable than funding shifts (aka cutting other programs.) Higher taxes and fees, which admittedly nobody likes, clearly identify who will pay them. Shifting $3 billion from unidentified state programs not only creates unintended consequences for residents with no stake in transportation, but future legislators could easily trump these choices, further delaying much-needed improvements.

Contrary to Rep. Thissen’s spin, there aren’t any funding shifts in the Republicans’ transportation plan. The Republicans’ plan proposes dedicating the sales tax on auto parts, car rentals and car leases for fixing roads and bridges. Those existing taxes would be part of the Transportation Stability Fund.

In the latest KSTP-SurveyUSA poll, 75% of Minnesotans said that they didn’t want a tax increase to be part of the transportation plan. Republicans shouldn’t cave on this. If the DFL wants to fight an election over this, I’d just tell the DFL that we’re willing to fight that fight anytime anywhere.

Compromise isn’t necessarily a virtue. Doing what the vast majority of people want is a virtue.

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Sen. Bakk has a reputation of being a smart political strategist. After reading this post, though, I have to consider updating my opinion on that. Here’s what he said that’s forced me to reconsider my opinion:

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk offered a sharp rebuke of the House Republican budget targets unveiled this week that would offer $2 billion in unspecified tax relief and mostly hold the line on spending. “It’s really not a place we’re gonna start negotiating. I think they’ve gotta get a little more serious with the budget proposal before we’re gonna actually start trading nickels back and forth,” said Bakk, DFL-Cook.

Senate DFL budget targets will be released Friday at 9 a.m. Bakk reiterated that the Senate would spend more than the House GOP proposal, but less than the budget plan of Gov. Mark Dayton, while putting more money in reserve than either.

Bakk said DFL Senators have received emails from health care and education groups this week, worried the House budget targets would slow spending below inflation and require program cuts. “The governor raised a lot of expectations of the advocacy groups, so some of them are gonna be a bit disappointed, but I expect they’re gonna feel better than they felt when the House targets came out,” Bakk said.

A DFL politician promising the special interests the world isn’t surprising. That’s a DFL tradition. What’s surprising is that Sen. Bakk admitted that in an on-the-record situation.

Frankly, that isn’t the brightest thing to do.

Sen. Bakk thinks that handing out goodies to all of the DFL’s special interest groups is good politics. To a degree, it is. To a large extent, though, it’s foolish. Doing things that help families is a smart thing. Promising handouts to special interests, though, tells families that they aren’t important to the DFL.

If Republicans were smart, and the jury’s still out on that, they’d start asking their neighbors if they want their politicians favoring special interests with their hands out or if they’d rather support politicians who worried about their neighbors and co-workers.

The DFL is the party of the special interests. That’s their identity. It’s time for Republicans to force the DFL to defend their habit of supporting the special interests, especially when the DFL’s special interests are hurting Minnesota’s economy.

Let’s ask Minnesotans if they think it’s ok for a sitting congresswoman to say that it’s ok to hurt an entire region’s economy. Similarly, let’s ask Minnesotans if they’ll continue supporting a political party that’s more attuned to the wants of the special interests rather than families’ needs.

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This article is a perfect illustration of the DFL’s doublespeak:

DULUTH, MN (NNCNOW.COM) — One Minnesota Congressperson is blasting the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for its new wild rice plan. After intense criticism from Iron Range Lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton, the MPCA said on Tuesday that the agency is updating its standard to account for new science.

Sen. Tom Bakk and others have been pressuring the state agency to waive or eliminate the ten standard; a standard that threatens the Iron mining industry, according Sen. Bakk and Iron Range Representatives Carly Melin and Jason Metsa.

But U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum told NNC on Wednesday that the state should not be lowering water quality standards to “cater to any industry” such as the mining industry.

The Minnesota Congresswoman, who represents St. Paul and surrounding suburbs in Congress, also wrote a letter to the United States EPA Administrator, urging the EPA to oppose Minnesota’s effort to lower the state’s current water quality standards and to protect wild rice waters.

“Our protections for water quality should be based on sound environmental science – and nothing else. The science in the state’s proposal is questionable,” Rep. McCollum said in a statement. “One of the scientists whose work was used said he was “truly shocked” by the proposal and called it “scientifically indefensible.” “If our water quality standards are lowered and our waters are harmed – it will be impossible to ever restore them. We do not get any do-overs on environmental protection,” she said.

The first thing Rep. McCollum said that’s noteworthy is that Minnesota shouldn’t lower its water quality standards because we shouldn’t “cater to any industry”. That’s right, Betty. We don’t want no stinking industry in Minnesota. Industries are worthless except for creating good paying jobs.

Another thing she said was that Minnesota’s water quality standards “should be based on sound environmental science.” Apparently, Rep. McCollum thinks that she’s the expert on the subject. If she doesn’t think that, she’d pay attention to the MPCA’s study.

I agree that water quality standards should be determined by “sound environmental science”, not by suburban politicians or environmental activists. We shouldn’t trust someone who taught social science in high school, either.

The fact is that Betty McCollum has painted herself into a corner. First, she told us to base our water quality standards on verifiable scientific standards. A paragraph later, she’s portraying herself as an expert on the environment even though she taught high school social science.

I’d just say that I wouldn’t trust a high school social science teacher when it comes to talking about the environment.

During his interview with MPR, Gov. Dayton experienced a brief flash of lucidity:

Gov. Mark Dayton is siding with U.S. Steel in a battle over water pollution standards for the company’s taconite facility in Mountain Iron. In an interview with MPR News, Dayton said the existing sulfate standard aimed at protecting wild rice is out of date, and pushing it could be catastrophic for northeastern Minnesota.

As the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency prepares to release new environmental standards, U.S. Steel is lobbying the Legislature to delay the implementation of a clean water standard aimed at protecting water where wild rice grows.

The existing state standard prevents companies from discharging more than 10 milligrams of sulfate per liter of water. But company lobbyists and Iron Range legislators say the standard is too low. With his latest comments, his strongest to date on the long-running debate, Dayton is joining that group.

“Some people will say, ‘you’re going to abandon the standard,'” Dayton said. “But if the standard is obsolete and it’s not validated by current science and information, then to stick with it and close down an industry isn’t really well advised.”

The MPCA just issued this draft proposal:

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is proposing that rather than relying on a single sulfate level for all wild rice waters, sulfate levels should be calculated for each wild rice water, based on location-specific factors. In coming to this conclusion, the MPCA studied how sulfate affects wild rice. The study, which began in 2012, found that:

  1. In the sediment in which wild rice is rooted, sulfate from the water above is converted to sulfide by bacteria.
  2. Higher levels of sulfide in the sediment create an environment that is less hospitable to wild rice.

However, certain factors change the rate at which sulfate is converted to sulfide. Most significantly, higher levels of iron can lead to less sulfide, and higher levels of organic carbon can lead to more sulfide.

To take these variables into account, the MPCA developed an equation that can determine a sulfate level that will protect wild rice for a specific water body. The agency proposes collecting sediment samples in wild rice stands, measuring the iron and organic carbon concentrations in the sediment, and then plugging the data into the equation to calculate a protective sulfate concentration for that particular wild rice water.All of the environmental organizations are protesting these findings because it strips them of another of their anti-mining arguments. They aren’t happy campers over this draft proposal. These environmental organizations were licking their proverbial chops over this:

Dayton said the sulfate standard is outdated and has rarely been enforced since it was first established in 1973. U.S. Steel’s Minntac plant was facing the new standard as it renewed a decades-old permit, something U.S. Steel said would cost hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades.

Then Gov. Dayton stepped in.

It isn’t that Gov. Dayton had a change of heart. It’s that he knows pissing off the Iron Range means Tina Smith, his Lieutenant Governor, will lose the DFL gubernatorial campaign to Tom Bakk in 2018. Gov. Dayton can’t have that. That’s part of his lackluster legacy.

Rep. Paul Thissen, currently the House Minority Leader, issued this totally dishonest statement after Republicans presented their comprehensive transportation plan:

“Minnesotans who are sitting every day in traffic, who are afraid their kids can’t get to school safely, who can’t get to that new job that promises a brighter future for their family, demand real transportation solutions. Unfortunately, the Republican plan is the same old shifts and gimmicks budgeting we’ve come to expect from them. Siphoning money from schools and hospitals and relying on the state’s credit card is no way to fund Minnesota’s transportation system. This is a ‘Give the Deficits Back’ Act.

House Democrats have said all along we will work to pass a comprehensive, statewide transportation solution that meets the needs of our entire state, roads, bridges, and transit, in a permanent way, without excessively siphoning money from our kids’ education or running up the credit card. It’s our hope Republicans will get serious about a plan that solves our transportation problem without creating new potholes in our budget.

The Republican plan irresponsibly raids the general fund, shifting hundreds of millions of tax dollars that should pay for better schools and uses it to pay for transportation projects. The next economic downturn could be around the corner, and if we use general fund tax dollars to fund transportation projects then we are hurting our schools, hospitals and other basic priorities in the future. Investments in Minnesota’s transportation systems shouldn’t compete with our kids’ education.

And the Republican plan excessively borrows money, running up the credit card bill to pay for future road and bridge projects. Minnesota is finally in a better financial position. We shouldn’t go right back to the borrowing and gimmicks that got us in trouble for the previous decade.”

Let’s go through Thissen’s diatribe paragraph-by-paragraph, starting with this:

Siphoning money from schools and hospitals and relying on the state’s credit card is no way to fund Minnesota’s transportation system.

First, Rep. Thissen can’t offer proof that the GOP transportation plan siphons “money from schools and hospitals” because that proof doesn’t exist. Period. Next, it’s entirely appropriate to put major bridge repairs on highway lane expansions on the state credit card because a) the rebuilding of a major bridge is expensive and b) it’s the type of thing that’ll benefit multiple generations. Why should 1 generation pay the entire bill for a bridge that multiple generations will benefit from? Why shouldn’t multiple generations pay for adding lanes for a state trunk highway? After all, multiple generations will benefit from it?

When the DFL raised taxes just 6 short years ago, we were promised that the DFL’s plan was the investment that would fix our transportation funding problems. Either the DFL lied to us then or they don’t know what they’re talking about. Why should we trust them at this point?

House Democrats have said all along we will work to pass a comprehensive, statewide transportation solution that meets the needs of our entire state, roads, bridges, and transit, in a permanent way, without excessively siphoning money from our kids’ education or running up the credit card.

It’s without question that the DFL has said that they’d work with Republicans on “a comprehensive, statewide transportation solution.” It’s just that their statements aren’t credible. The DFL always meant that they’d work with Republicans if the Republicans’ transportation plan included a major middle class tax increase. The DFL never meant that they’d work with Republicans if the Republicans’ transportation plan didn’t include a major middle class tax increase.

The Republican plan irresponsibly raids the general fund, shifting hundreds of millions of tax dollars that should pay for better schools and uses it to pay for transportation projects.

If there’s a political party that knows about irresponsibly raiding the general fund, it’s the DFL. That doesn’t mean they’re trustworthy. It just means that they know about irresponsibly raiding Minnesota’s general fund. Look at all the money they shipped to Community Action’s corrupt leaders. That includes the money CA shipped to Jeff Hayden while stiffing the people who needed the money to survive.

Minnesota is finally in a better financial position. We shouldn’t go right back to the borrowing and gimmicks that got us in trouble for the previous decade.

Rep. Thissen shouldn’t talk out of both sides of his mouth. Year after year, the DFL has called their bonding bill their jobs bill. The DFL has told us time after time that borrowing money to build civic centers and sheet music museums was essential to creating jobs. It’s astonishing that the DFL can tell us that borrowing money to pay for critical highway infrastructure is a negative.

It isn’t astonishing that Rep. Thissen could tell us this without hesitation. You can’t be a leader in the DFL if you can’t lie through your teeth with a straight face.

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House Speaker Kurt Daudt issued this statement after announcing the House GOP transportation proposal:

“Minnesota families rely on our road and bridge infrastructure to get their kids to school and themselves to work. To help them, our goal from the beginning was to refocus transportation dollars on roads and bridges and deliver a real, long-term solution without increasing their tax burden. I’m proud today to unveil our vision for the next decade that achieves our shared goal,” announced Speaker Daudt.

“Republicans have developed a thoughtful solution to adequately maintain and expand our road and bridge infrastructure without raising gas taxes, because Minnesotans can’t afford to pay more at the pump. Our proposal will benefit small cities, rural areas, suburban communities, and elderly and disabled Minnesotans while also making significant commitments to state roads,” said Senate Republican Leader Hann.

“Most Minnesotans count on safe roads and short commutes every day, and our plan focuses on those daily needs. It fills potholes and repairs streets in their neighborhoods and will alleviate congestion on Minnesota roads. Now, Minnesotans have a choice between smart budgeting that dedicates existing transportation taxes to roads and bridges without a tax increase and a plan that raises the gas tax by at least 16 cents per gallon,” added House Majority Leader Peppin.

Predictably, the DFL immediately criticized the plan:

DFLers, in contrast, attacked the Republican plan for shifting money from other sources. “What programs will (Republicans) cut to pay for (money) they are taking from (the) general fund?” Dayton’s deputy chief of staff Linden Zakula wrote on Twitter.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, responded that the GOP plan “irresponsibly raids” the general fund. “Unfortunately, the Republican plan is the same old shifts and gimmicks budgeting we’ve come to expect from them. Siphoning money from schools and hospitals and relying on the state’s credit card is no way to fund Minnesota’s transportation system,” he said in a prepared statement.

Here’s my response to Mssrs. Zakula and Thissen: What corrupt programs will the DFL fund with the money that the GOP proposes to fix roads and bridges with? Does the DFL plan to finance more trips for Sen. Hayden? Or would they rather direct money to Community Action? Would the DFL rather funnel more money to MnSCU to sign contracts with their friends to do ‘consulting’ work ?

Actually, Rep. Thissen, putting some things on the state’s credit card is the right thing to do. Why should this generation pay the entire cost for fixing bridges? Shouldn’t subsequent generations pay for their fair share of the cost since they’re going to get a substantial benefit from new bridges? Why shouldn’t younger generations pay for some of the cost of lane expansions?

There’s nothing wrong with paying for road repairs with current money. Maintenance is a short-term proposition. Fixing potholes is something that’s done annually. Widening State Trunk Highway 23 to 4 lanes from St. Cloud to Foley is a one-time thing. That’s something that should be paid for by multiple generations.

Finally, it’s interesting to watch the DFL immediately insinuate that Republicans want to “siphon money from schools and hospitals.” It didn’t matter to Rep. Thissen that there’s literally no proof that Republicans want to do that. In fact, there’s proof that Republicans don’t want to do that.

That’s irrelevant to Rep. Thissen. The truth isn’t relevant to him because it’s about frightening people with baseless allegations. It isn’t about having an honest debate based on reality. Simply put, the DFL is the Fearmongering Party.

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Gov. Dayton is trying to shift the spotlight away from building oil pipelines by preaching the gospel of railroad safety:

ST. PAUL, Minn. — State officials estimate that 326,170 Minnesotans live within a half mile of railroad tracks that carry crude oil, a distance often known as the danger zone. People within a half mile of tracks usually will be evacuated if an oil train could explode or catch fire after a derailment.

The estimate, released this morning after state officials could not answer a Forum News Service question about the issue last week, is the first time Minnesotans had an idea about the number of people that state transportation and public safety officials say could be in danger of oil train explosions like those seen elsewhere in the United States and Canada.

“This data provides a greater emphasis on the need for a strong rail safety program,” Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said. “If trains derail and an emergency occurs, many lives could be in danger.”

This is a phony issue created by belligerent environmental activists serving on the Public Utilities Commission, aka the PUC. If the PUC hadn’t delayed by at least 2 years the building of the Sandpiper Pipeline, the amount of oil shipped via railroad would drop significantly.

Environmental activists are fighting the building of the Sandpiper Pipeline and other proposed pipelines because these activists hate the use of fossil fuels. As long as people don’t criticize Gov. Dayton and these environmental activists, the activists will continue needlessly putting Minnesotans in harm’s way. Even if this money would get spent, the danger would still exist because millions of barrels of oil would still be shipped via trains.

The truth is that pipelines are dramatically safer than shipping oil via railcar. If Gov. Dayton doesn’t change that policy, the problem will still exist. It’s that simple.

I’ve written 3 posts about Move MN, the DFL front group on transportation issues since the start of the year. See here, here, and here for those posts. My state senator, John Pederson, recently got a bunch of letters regarding transportation. That’s understandable because Sen. Pederson is the ranking member on the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Budget Division. Here’s why Sen. Pederson is in the news:

Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud, knows it’s important to a lot of his constituents. But he wonders if all of the people whose names are listed on postcards recently delivered to him by Move MN, a transportation lobbying group, really filled out the information in an effort to sway his opinion on funding solutions.

Pederson says of more than 100 postcards he received, the handwriting on 27 of them appears to be identical and most did not list an email address or phone number.

Pederson is the GOP lead on the Senate transportation committee, and a policy bill is deadline looming Friday. “We wrote a letter back to every one and I got a response from someone I know who said ‘Thanks for the letter, but I didn’t send anything to you,'” Pederson said. “We forwarded a copy of what we received and they said it wasn’t their handwriting and they didn’t recall anyone asking their support of the cause. It appears there are a sizable number of postcards that weren’t legit.”

Move MN isn’t honest in the sense that they frequently talk about transportation but their stated goal is to increase funding for transit. That’s given away by the fact that lots of environmental organizations are part of Move MN’s partners:

Look at the list of organizations running Move MN:

Move MN is governed by an 11-person steering committee made up of representatives from AFSCME Minnesota Council 5, Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, American Council of Engineering Companies, American Heart Association – Minnesota, Associated General Contractors of Minnesota, Association of Minnesota Counties, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, Laborers District Council of MN & ND, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Minnesota Community Foundation, Summit Academy, Transit for Livable Communities and The Transportation Alliance.

The organizations that are italicized don’t care about fixing roads and bridges. They’re advocates for transit and bike paths. Since they’re the organizations behind Move MN, there isn’t any doubt that they’re the people pushing for the DFL’s massive middle class tax increase.

More importantly, though, Move MN was just exposed as corrupt. Filling out petition cards in other people’s names isn’t the picture of integrity. Couple that corruption with the corruption in this post and it’s pretty obvious that the DFL won’t hesitate to lie to push a tax increase across the line.

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Based on this article, Minnesota is headed for war in 2016:

House Republicans have been working on a plan that doesn’t raise taxes but would dedicate the revenue from several existing taxes to fix road and bridges. But state Rep. Tim Kelly, chair of the House Transportation Committee, isn’t ready to say how much it will cost.

Kelly, R-Red Wing, said his plan would use some money from the state’s $1.9 billion budget surplus. He also wants to borrow some money, and dedicate a portion of existing tax revenue to transportation. Those taxes may include the sales tax on auto parts as well as taxes on leased vehicles and rental cars, which together raise about $200 million a year.

The GOP plan would dedicate additional revenues to fix roads and bridges without raising taxes. The DFL has a dramatically different approach:

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said he doesn’t support dedicating tax revenue to transportation that now goes to the general fund. Bakk said using general fund revenue for transportation projects is a bad idea because lawmakers will always put a higher priority on education and health care than on roads and bridges.

“Those investments will always get delayed,” said Bakk, DFL-Cook. “So the challenge of trying to craft a transportation bill that relies on general fund spending is we can cobble a budget together for this two-year budget cycle, but after the 2016 election, a new Legislature is going to come in here and they’re going to have their own priorities.”

Not surprisingly, the DFL’s plan includes a massive middle class tax increase. According to the DFL’s own table, this massive middle class tax increase would cost the middle class $1,315,000,000 a year. That isn’t GOP spin. That’s the DFL’s own estimate.

Normally, Sen. Bakk is pretty good at reading the political tea leaves. This time, it looks like his political radar is failing him:

Even though his plan spends much less than Dayton and Senate Democrats, Kelly said the Republican proposal is more popular, according to recent poll from KSTP-TV and Survey USA.

“The biggest difference, of course, is where the revenue is coming from,” Kelly said. “As we lay out our plan, the state of Minnesota is going to help us out because we had a 75 percent approval on just our basic plan. When we see this, it’s going to go 85 percent.”

If Sen. Bakk want the 2016 election to be fought over transportation, he’ll be the minority leader in 2017. It’s that simple.

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Gov. Dayton and the DFL are insisting on spending $330,000,000 on railroad safety to prevent oil car derailments/fires. This article shows how short-sighted the Dayton-DFL plan is:

With a throng of officials from towns dealing with the headaches of heavier train traffic behind him, Dayton called it “totally unacceptable” that railroads would oppose contributing more money to the state’s safety efforts. The governor and other fellow DFL lawmakers have proposed a series of tax increases and annual fees on railroads to upgrade railroad crossings and ease congestion across Minnesota.

As usual, Gov. Dayton is removing all doubt that he’s a blithering idiot. Railroads are already spending $500,000,000 on safety improvements in Minnesota. Further, the Dayton-DFL plan isn’t a solution, though Rep. Paul Marquardt isn’t bright enough to figure that out:

“That is the responsibility of the railroad,” Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said of improvements.

These improvements don’t do anything to solve the underlying problem, which is to free up rail capacity to transport agricultural products to market. The only way to do that is to build more pipelines, which the DFL is unwilling to do. Gov. Dayton and the DFL aren’t willing to do that because the anti-fossil fuel activists won’t tolerate the building of pipelines. That’s because they’re the dominant wing of the DFL.

The only way to improve railroad safety is to stop shipping oil on trains. I’ve yet to hear of a grain car derailing and exploding. Oil should be transported via pipelines because it’s the safest way to transport oil to the refineries.

I can’t emphasize this point enough: Money spent on railway safety won’t be efficiently spent if oil is shipped by railroad.

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