Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category
The best news from today’s budget forecast, other than the fact that there’s a major surplus, is that Gov. Dayton admitted that a gas tax increase is dead for the upcoming session. That might’ve been the most painful statement he’s made as governor.
That all but officially ends Move Minnesota’s gas tax increase campaign. I wrote this post to highlight the features of House Transportation Committee Chairman Tim Kelly’s plan. Chairman Kelly’s plan invests heavily in roads and bridges without diverting funds to transit. The reason why Move Minnesota opposed Chairman Kelly’s bill is because he didn’t raise taxes and because he doesn’t put a high priority on ‘investing’ in transit.
Chairman Kelly wrote this op-ed to highlight his proposal. A big key to the plan is investing “$7 billion into needed road and bridge repair without raising taxes.” Chairman Kelly’s plan repurposes “revenue that is already being collected from existing sales taxes on auto parts, the Motor Vehicle Lease sales tax, the rental vehicle tax and the sales tax on rental vehicles.” Currently, that money goes into the general fund.
As I said last spring, why should taxes that are imposed on rental vehicles and leasing motor vehicles go into the general fund?
Chairman Kelly’s plan creates a “Transportation Stability Fund.” The TSF will “not only provide new money for roads and bridges statewide, but also for small city roads, bus services in Greater Minnesota, suburban county highways and metro area capital improvements.”
This is what Gov. Dayton and the DFL were upset about:
In addition to the dedicated funds provided by the Transportation Stability Fund, the proposal would also utilize $1.3 billion in Trunk Highway bonds, $1.2 billion from realigning Minnesota Department of Transportation resources, $1.05 billion in General Obligation bonds, and $228 million in General Funds.
According to Paul Thissen, Chairman Kelly’s plan stole money from schools and other DFL priorities. That’s interesting considering the fact that Thissen insisted that the DFL had made an historic investment in education and paid back the school shifts.
At what point does Rep. Thissen think Minnesota’s middle class is overtaxed? For that matter, does Rep. Thissen think that Minnesota’s middle class is overtaxed?
The good news is that the DFL’s dreams of raising the gas tax is over.
If there is a thing called progressive logic, this Times Writers Group article fits the definition perfectly:
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, introduced an amendment titled “Northstar Commuter Rail Extension Study,” key to getting the line from Big Lake to St. Cloud. The study would estimate ridership, identify funding sources and include a timeline for implementation.
Ironically, it was Central Minnesota lawmakers who put the kibosh on this perfectly reasonable, much-needed effort. Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, took the lead, characterizing Northstar commuter rail as only a shuttle to the St. Cloud prison. “Boy, wouldn’t that be convenient,” he said on the House floor, “to have that rail line going from the prison to North Minneapolis.” He continued that in his “neck of the woods” in Becker, “we don’t call it Northstar, we call it the black hole because that’s where all the money goes.”
Where to begin?
By Newberger’s logic, apparently no one from the Twin Cities would want to visit St. Cloud for any reason other than to stop at the prison — not to go to St. Cloud State University, Munsinger and Clemens Gardens, the Paramount Arts District or to see the 100,000-plus people living in our metro area. By his logic, we should take out U.S. Highway 10, so people could not visit the 242 prisoners from Hennepin County behind the granite walls. Egad!
We don’t need to spend money on more studies. Ridership of the Northstar is tiny. As for where to begin, let’s start with the reality that only transportation lobbyists and pork-tasting politicians like the Northstar project. Thoughtful people prefer the liberty that comes with driving. Environmentalists have been trying to force transit down our throats for decades. People have overwhelmingly rejected these options.
Rather than listening to the people, these progressives keep pushing these unwanted options. When will they accept that we aren’t interested?
Rep. Jennifer Schultz’s op-ed is yet another op-ed that discounts Gov. Dayton’s disastrous decisions:
On Friday, the Minnesota Legislature held a special session that concluded a disappointing year. Like most Minnesotans, I was not pleased the Legislature was unable to conclude its business on time or with the content of the resulting compromise bills.
Let’s modify Rep. Schultz’s statement to fit with reality. Here’s what it would say if it was accurate:
On Friday, the Minnesota Legislature held a special session that concluded a disappointing year. Like most Minnesotans, I was not pleased that Gov. Dayton wasted the last week of the regular session negotiating 2 budget bills. When Speaker Daudt and Sen. Bakk booted Gov. Dayton from the room that Friday afternoon, they negotiated and finalized the other 4 budget bills in less than 2 hours. That says everything about who’s to blame for the special session.
Let’s be blunt. There were rumors swirling around the Capitol the last 2 weeks of the session that the DFL thought that they could win the government shutdown if it happened. Gov. Dayton spent an entire week fighting for bills that went nowhere. When Gov. Dayton left the room, Speaker Daudt and Sen. Bakk finished the budget in what was left of that Friday afternoon.
Most disappointing was the ongoing failure to address the issue of transportation infrastructure. In greater Minnesota, we are used to living at the end of a very long road to anywhere, but we would like that road to be safe and efficient for our businesses and people. A bipartisan commission worked hard to develop a plan to solve the problems that a decade of neglect of transportation infrastructure left us and to create the new infrastructure we need to prosper in the 21st century. This is critical for the economic growth of the state and especially of our area but has been derailed by shortsighted demands for a free lunch and refusals to create the revenue streams needed.
The DFL’s insistence that another tax increase was required stopped transportation dead in its tracks. The Republicans’ plan showed that a tax increase wasn’t required. There isn’t a compromise position on this issue. There will either be a tax increase or there won’t. When a tax increase isn’t needed, taxes shouldn’t be increased.
Further, Gov. Dayton, Sen. Bakk, Sen. Dibble and Move MN pushed a plan that didn’t prioritize fixing Minnesota’s potholed roads. I won’t shed a tear that the DFL coalition’s plan didn’t pass. Gov. Dayton and the DFL should’ve listened to the people, not the lobbyists.
If Rep. Schultz wants to blame someone for this session, she should blame Gov. Dayton.
This morning, the St. Cloud Times’ Our View editorial couldn’t get it more wrong:
Seriously, short of breaking the two-party stranglehold on state government, this session stands as Minnesota’s poster child for reforming a budget-building process that’s come to rely on procrastination as a feeble excuse for letting a handful of 202 elected officials (201 legislators and one governor) make closed-door budget deals as time expires. Or, this year, afterward.
More transparency is the best solution.
This isn’t an argument against transparency. It’s an argument that ideology, not transparency, drove the special session. Time after time, Gov. Dayton pushed items from the DFL’s special interest wish list. While neither party is immune to pushing things too far, it’s indisputable that the DFL pushed it too hard this session. In fact, I’d argue that the DFL got used to pushing things too far in 2013-14, then didn’t adjust to divided government this year.
Gov. Dayton insisted on a trifecta of bad ideas. First, Gov. Dayton insisted on a major gas tax increase that Minnesotans vehemently opposed. Next, Gov. Dayton insisted on universal pre-k. Even after experts said that wasn’t sustainable, Gov. Dayton didn’t relent until a week later. Finally, Gov. Dayton insisted that the legislature repeal the partial privatization of the Auditor’s office a week after Gov. Dayton signed the bill.
The gas tax increase was a disaster waiting to happen. Three-fourths of Minnesotans opposed the tax increase. That didn’t stop Gov. Dayton from harshly criticizing people opposed to his gas tax increase. When he dug in his heels, Gov. Dayton poisoned the well.
Later, Gov. Dayton insisted on universal pre-K. Even after Art Rolnick showed how expensive it was and how many hidden property tax increases and unfunded mandates were hidden in the bill, Gov. Dayton still pushed the bill in his attempt to pay off his allies at Education Minnesota.
Third, Gov. Dayton pushed that the legislature repeal the statute that gave counties the option of hiring a private CPA to audit their county. That was an especially tricky position to defend since 28 counties already have that option.
Ideology, not a lack of transparency, pushed events in the Legislature.
The regular session winners list starts in the same place as the special session’s winners list started:
- Kurt Daudt — Speaker Daudt quickly became the most liked and most trusted man at the Capitol. After Sen. Bakk ambushed Gov. Dayton on the commissioners pay raises, Gov. Dayton said that he trusted Speaker Daudt more than he trusted Bakk. That set off an avalanche of well-deserved positive press. First, he negotiated a compromise between Gov. Dayton and Sen. Bakk. Speaker Daudt stood firm in rejecting the Move MN/Sen. Bakk/Gov. Dayton gas tax increase. At the end of the regular session, Speaker Daudt was the leader that brought the budget negotiations to a successful conclusion. In the end, he’s the GOP’s biggest hero this session.
- Rural Minnesota — Despite Rep. Thissen’s spin to the contrary, this was a positive session for Outstate Minnesota. First, they weren’t hit with a gas tax increase. That would’ve been a major expenditure increase for them because everywhere they drive is distant. They’re also the major beneficiaries of the $138,000,000 funding increase for nursing homes.
- House and Senate Republicans — Speaker Daudt and Sen. Hann kept their caucuses in line the entire session. The messaging was crisp throughout. They made sure that overreach was a term that only applied to DFL legislators.
- Jim Knoblach — After winning a narrow election victory in 2014, Chairman Knoblach returned to his post as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Everyone knows that it’s a powerful committee. Few understand that it’s essentially the epicenter for putting the budget together. Jim did a great job in putting an acceptable budget together. Though everyone on the GOP side would’ve preferred a smaller budget, that simply wasn’t going to happen with a DFL Senate and Gov. Dayton. Jim didn’t let the perfect get in the way of the pretty decent.
- Tim Kelly — Chairman Kelly was the chief architect of the GOP Transportation Bill, which would’ve “repaired or replaced 15,500 lane miles for all roads.”
At the end of the day, Republicans did themselves lots of favors by simply doing their jobs in a very professional way. The DFL heads into the 2016 campaign without a wedge issue to emphasize. All that they’ve got is accusing Republicans of not raising the gas tax and not agreeing with Gov. Dayton on universal pre-K. Good luck with those issues.
Dan Wolgamott visited with KNSI’s Dan Ochsner Wednesday afternoon. Wolgamott was the DFL-endorsed candidate against Rep. Tama Theis in 2014. Here’s a little historical information on that race. Rep. Theis won that election by 1,300 votes while garnering 55% of the vote.
One of the topics discussed during the interview was transportation. Wolgamott lamented the fact that a compromise wasn’t reached to fix Minnesota’s potholed roads. I wrote this post after the St. Cloud Times published Wolgamott’s op-ed. Here’s part of what Mr. Wolgamott said in that op-ed:
Our roads are aging, the congestion is getting worse and our state is falling behind on delivering the vibrant transportation options we need. We feel the bumps in our pothole-filled roads and the hit in our wallets with vehicle repairs.
It’s time for us to invest in our roads and bridges, which is why St. Cloud needs better leadership than State Sen. John Pederson. As made clear in two recent articles in the St. Cloud Times, Pederson has some thoughts on the state’s transportation network. As the Republican lead on the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee, he could play a vital role in providing St. Cloud the comprehensive transportation investment we need.
Instead, Sen. Pederson backs a plan that not only shifts money away from our schools and services for our most vulnerable residents, but relies heavily on borrowing for our roads and bridges, putting the costs on the state’s credit card. This plan depends on action to be taken by future legislatures. However, there is no guarantee future legislatures will make those decisions. Instead of stability, this is another example of politicians promising something in the future to justify ducking their responsibilities now.
TRANSLATION: Minnesota’s roads need fixing.
That’s long on complaining but short on solutions. That’s typical Wolgamott. This is, too:
We need an honest, comprehensive approach that creates a dedicated source of new funding for our roads and bridges, one that will meet the demands of our growing state.
TRANSLATION: I support the Dayton-Bakk-Move MN gas tax increase plan.
The tip-off is Mr. Wolgamott’s use of the phrase “comprehensive approach.” Whenever you hear that phrase, grab your wallets. It means that the DFL intends to raid your wallets again. As I’ve repeatedly said, the public supports the GOP plan because it a) doesn’t raise taxes and b) isn’t comprehensive. I’ve repeatedly said that 75% of Minnesotans support the GOP plan.
When 75% of Minnesotans support the GOP plan, why shouldn’t the GOP plan pass with overwhelming support? Further, I’d love hearing Mr. Wolgamott explain what a compromise looks like. Is a smaller but still unpopular gas tax increase the compromise Wolgamott would support? If yes, that means he still supports a failed policy. In 2008, the legislature raised the gas tax with the promise that that tax increase would provide the revenues needed to cut down on Minnesota’s backlog for a generation. It’s a short 7 years later and the DFL is back insisting that this gas tax increase will be the last gas tax increase…until the next gas tax increase.
Wolgamott is a polished speaker but he’s still an empty suit who will support the DFL’s agenda if elected.
Sen. Franken’s solution to high home heating prices isn’t a serious proposal:
The Democratic senator’s measure would put in place a coordinated response to growing coal supply emergencies that affect power plants across the country, including in Minnesota. “In Minnesota, we know that our utilities need dependable fuel supplies so they can provide heat to homes and businesses, and prevent rising energy costs for consumers,” Franken said.
The proposed Severe Fuel Supply Emergency Response Act of 2015 would direct the Secretary of Energy to lead the response to coal fuel supply emergencies by:
- Promptly investigating the cause of the fuel shortage and informing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Surface Transportation Board.
- Convening a meeting with stakeholders involved.
- Making written publicly available recommendations for actions that would help alleviate the problems.
If Sen. Franken won’t propose a serious solution that doesn’t create a different crisis, he shouldn’t be a U.S. senator. This isn’t a serious proposal because Sen. Franken is still owned by environmental activists. These environmental activists, along with the Putin administration, don’t want the Sandpiper Pipeline project built. Before progressives start questioning the logic, here’s why the Pipeline is at the heart of the coal shortage problem. Because the Sandpiper Pipeline hasn’t been built, oil from the Bakken is getting shipped via rail to refineries in Superior, WI, and elsewhere. The last I heard there were either 6 or 7 trains dedicated to transporting oil from the Bakken to the refineries in Superior.
That’s led to a railcar shortage that’s affecting the shipping of iron to steel mills in the Rust Belt, the shipping of agricultural products to the Twin Cities in addition to the shipping of home heating products to anywhere in Minnesota.
Sen. Franken knows this. He doesn’t care about creating rail space to transport agricultural products to market or taconite to steel mills. Sen. Franken’s highest priority is to appease the environmental activists. Instead of appeasing theses special interests, he should attempt to represent his constituents. I know that’s a revolutionary concept with Democrats but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
Since the end of Minnesota’s legislative session, Move MN has campaigned across the state. Their message is deliberately intended to misrepresent their agenda. Here’s an example of Move MN’s deception:
Move MN was joined at Thursday’s event by representatives of labor and local business and civic leaders. A long-term funding bill “creates jobs in all corners of Minnesota,” said Russ Hess, the political coordinator for the Laborers District Council for Minnesota and North Dakota.
Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht said she, too, was disappointed a bill couldn’t be reached, saying transportation projects are needed throughout the area, including in Bemidji, Walker, Bagley and Cass Lake.
Having safe, reliable transportation infrastructure helps businesses ship and receive goods, as well as benefitting tourism, an important economic driver in Bemidji, Albrecht said. Long-term funding solutions allow communities to better plan long-term for growth, she said.
A long-term transportation bill, as proposed this session, could mean as much as a $2 million increase per year in state aid funds to Beltrami County and a $200,000 increase in municipal state aid to Bemidji for projects, officials said.
Move MN has shown that they won’t prioritize fixing Minnesota’s potholed roads and highways. They’re interested in an all-of-the-above transportation solution. Minnesota’s top priority is fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges, not raising taxes for more rail projects.
Further, we’ve seen that raising the gas tax doesn’t fix Minnesota’s potholed roads. The DFL passed a gas tax increase in 2008. Attached was the promise that that tax increase would provide sufficient revenue to eliminate Minnesota’s backlog of transportation projects. It’s had minimal positive effect on that backlog.
“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road … we’ll be on a gravel road,” said Bethany Winkels of Move MN at a news conference Thursday in Bemidji.
Ms. Winkels is a drama queen and then some. The reality is that Republicans put together a fantastic plan that didn’t raise taxes but provided greater stability and reliability. Move MN and the DFL picked a tax increase and instability instead.
The duct tape symbolizes the patchwork approach legislators have taken to find a long-term funding solution for transportation infrastructure, including for roads and bridge projects, as well for transit systems and bike and pedestrian routes.
That’s just dishonest. There was nothing patchwork about the GOP plan. It was well thought out. It fixed the problems. It provided funding stability without raising taxes. Most importantly, it focused on asphalt instead of rail lines and “pedestrian infrastructure.”
At the end of each legislative session, each chamber’s leaders issue statements on what did or didn’t get accomplished. Predictably, there’s quite a difference of opinion. Check Rep. Thissen’s statement out:
House DFL Leader Paul Thissen released the following statement:
“I would grade this session an ‘F.’ House Republicans failed to pass a transportation bill when this was supposed to be the transportation session. They failed to freeze tuition for Minnesota’s students despite our $2 billion budget surplus. They failed Greater Minnesota, ignoring broadband, oil train safety, and local property tax relief. They failed to get their job done on time, chaotically passing a jobs bill with no public input or debate. And they refused to negotiate with Governor Dayton, forcing a special session over their insistence on underfunding Minnesota’s earliest learners.
What makes this session’s failures so disappointing is the golden opportunity that Republicans have wasted- all to protect corporate special interests. With a growing economy and $2 billion surplus, we had the opportunity this session to provide greater economic security to hardworking families, fix our state’s roads and bridges, make college more affordable for students, and take needed strides to ensure all of Minnesota’s earliest learners have the chance to get ahead.
We should have done much better for hardworking Minnesotans, but Republican failed to deliver results.”
Compare that with Sen. Bakk’s statement:
Saint Paul, Minn.—Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) released the following statement regarding the end of the 2015 legislative session.
“Tonight the legislature passed the final components of a two-year budget to keep Minnesota moving forward. Protecting MinnesotaCare from elimination, $138 million for nursing homes, and important new investments in education were significant accomplishments for the DFL Senate.
The last five months, we have seen what divided government looks like. Many bills this session passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support. However, the challenge presented by divided government immobilized many promising, critical initiatives.
I, and many Minnesotans, am particularly disappointed we were unable pass a comprehensive transportation bill this session. I will work tirelessly to pass a comprehensive transportation bill with stable funding during the 2016 legislative session. I will also work to dedicate portions of the projected budget surplus to investment in education and property tax relief for all Minnesotans,” Bakk said.
Last Friday night on Almanac, Sen. Bakk’s positive tone spoke volumes about how he felt about the budget he’d just negotiated with Speaker Daudt. He said “We didn’t get everything we wanted but we got everything we need to keep Minnesota moving forward.”
Thissen’s statement sounds like the type of political statement that an out-of-touch Twin Cities Metrocrat would write, which is what it is.
Expanded broadband isn’t a high priority for Greater Minnesota. Fixing Greater Minnesota’s pothole-filed roads are their highest priority, followed by building the Sandpiper Pipeline project to free up railcar space. Greater Minnesota understands that oil train safety, as defined by the DFL, isn’t the solution. Building pipelines is the solution, plus it kills 2 birds with one stone. First, pipelines are the safest way to get oil from Point A to Point B. Second, pipelines free up rail space for agricultural products.
Metrocrats like Thissen, though, don’t approve of that because the environmental activist wing of the DFL don’t approve of fossil fuels. The DFL’s record proves that they do exactly what their special interest masters tell them to do.
The best news from the Capitol this weekend is that transportation conference committee members have given up on reaching a grand bargain:
With a grand transportation compromise all but dead, lawmakers on Saturday moved to pass a so-called “lights-on” bill to fund the Department of Transportation next year.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis said that unless “something incredible happens, say the clouds parting and heavens starting to sing, which I hope happens before midnight on Monday,” the best lawmakers can hope for in transportation is minor changes and spending. Just in case that miracle does occur, the conference committee the issue will stay open until late Monday waiting for an unlikely deal by senior leaderships. But in the meantime, the lights-on proposal seems likely to become law.
The proposed measure does include a collection of smaller spending items and policy proposals, including:
- $140 million in trunk highway bonds for rerouting Highway 53, for $12.1 million in debt service
- $5 million for Greater Minnesota Transit
- $5 million for rail grade crossing safety
- $12.5 million to help small cities with fewer than 5,000 residents with their roads
- An increase in the fine for repeat texting-while-driving offenses to $225
- Changing the distribution of County State Aid Highway funds such that 68 percent is based on construction needs and 32 percent on that county’s share of motor vehicles registered. The current formula is 60 percent and 40 percent respectively.
This all but officially ends consideration of the gas tax until 2017. There’s no way Sen. Bakk will bring the Dayton-DFL tax increase up in an election year. Sen. Bakk might be a Democrat but he isn’t foolish. He’ll push a tax increase if he’s got the political cover. This year’s dynamic (DFL Senate, GOP House right after a major tax increase) has people tired of tax increases. If Move MN and Brian McDaniel could’ve talked a couple Republicans into voting for a gas tax increase, Bakk would’ve gone forward with it.
The thing that’s got to have the DFL worried is that next year’s session will be the bonding and policy session. Republicans will have tons of time to push their transportation bill. It’ll get tons of headlines, too, because it’ll be the highest priority item on the agenda. With the transportation bill being the first legislation that the House will pass, they’ll be able to ask why the DFL hasn’t started debating the House transportation bill.
One of the safe members of the DFL, like Scott Dibble, will likely chief-author a bill but that won’t go far. Vulnerable DFL legislators will vote against it because they can’t afford to vote for a Dibble bill.
Once that’s dispatched, Republicans will ask why the DFL is opposed to the Republican bill. Eventually, that’ll turn into a lit piece in every vulnerable DFL senator’s district. Considering the fact that Minnesotans have made this their highest priority since 2013, they’ll be fired up to vote for people who support the Republican plan.