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Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Terry Stone’s LTE highlights what’s wrong with how transportation issues get settled. Here’s what happens that inevitably leads to chaos:

Currently, state transportation planning is done by various counties, cities and the Met Council. Then the Metropolitan Airport Commission, the Port of Duluth, the Port of St. Paul and a slug of lobbying groups chime in. Minnesota Department of Transportation and the University of Minnesota have their own ideas and the Legislature has theirs. The federal government uses money to push its own agenda. Intelligent planning for efficient pipelines and safe, efficient railroad infrastructure are largely left to the private sector.

When the transportation suggestions from this gaggle of transportation planners hit the Legislature, the lobbyists descend upon St. Paul like a hungry horde of locusts. Frequently, the special interests with the most effective lobbyists end up with the transportation projects they want.

What could possibly go wrong with so many people wanting their slice of the transportation pie? This isn’t a failure of too few dollars to meet Minnesota’s transportation needs. It’s that there’s too few dollars to fund the special interests’ wish list items and too little time spent prioritizing Minnesota’s transportation needs.

Why isn’t the DFL putting the highest priority on fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges? Why is the DFL paying any attention to increasing transit funding? What proof do we have that transit ridership is increasing dramatically?

The DFL had complete control of Minnesota government in 2013 and 2014. They could have created a state planning agency to develop a plan for building and funding transportation intelligently. Instead, they chose the politically expedient status quo. Now we are being herded and asked to believe that only massive tax increases can allow Minnesota to perform a core function of government; building and maintaining roads and bridges.

I’ll just add that we’re being railroaded into thinking that our transportation needs have dramatically increased since the DFL held total control of government in 2013-2014. In 2008, Steve Murphy pushed through a massive tax increase that was supposed to solve this problem. At the time, Sen. Murphy bragged that he wasn’t “hiding anything. There’s lots of taxes” in his bill.

At the time, the DFL, with Sen. Murphy leading the way, told Minnesota that our roads and bridges were crumbling and only a massive tax increase could fix the situation. It’s 6 years later and the DFL is telling us that our roads and bridges are crumbling and only a massive tax increase will fill the potholes and fix Minnesota’s bridges.

When I went back to my original post about Sen. Murphy’s quote, I noticed something that I’d forgotten. Sen. Murphy wanted the gas tax increased, then indexing the gas tax with the CPI. Before another step is taken, the first thing that needs to happen is determine what Minnesota’s transportation needs are. I’m totally disinterested in what’s included in the lobbyists’ wish lists. I’m just interested Minnesota’s roads being in good repair and Minnesota’s bridges being safe.

This is great advice:

It’s time to think twice before buying into this transportation panic scenario. The Minnesota House has a thoughtful, calm plan to fund roads and bridges without raising a dime of new taxes. The plan deserves our careful consideration.

The DFL’s manufactured transportation crisis should be ignored. The DFL had the opportunity to fix Minnesota’s highways and bridges last spring when they controlled all of the levers of political power. They didn’t get it done. In fact, they adjourned several days before the constitutional deadline.

It’s time to focus solely on roads and bridges. Everything else is a nicety.

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This statement from this fluff piece is stunning:

“Although there is a lack of data on all the health impacts and the exact risk to specific communities, that lack of data should not keep us from acting,” Kristin Raab, climate and health program coordinator for MDH, said in a statement.

TRANSLATION: Just because we can’t prove that climate change is impacting people’s health doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust us.

You’d think that Kristin Raab is an MD based on that statement. According to this, she isn’t:

KRISTIN RAAB
BA in Political Science, University of Minnesota
MPH in Epidemiology, University of Minnesota
MLA in Landscape Architecture, University of Minnesota

Now that we’ve determined that Ms. Raab isn’t a doctor, it’s time to determine what she is.

Ms. Raab isn’t just employed by the Minnesota Department of Health. She was a presenter at the ASLA-MN conference in May, 2013. For those who didn’t know, ASLA stands for the American Society of Landscape Architects. Here are some things that ASLA advocates for:

Transportation:

Landscape architects help communities by designing multi-use transportation corridors that accommodate all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, people with disabilities, and people who use public transportation. These multi-use transportation systems reduce reliance on a single-use automotive transport, which in turn reduces traffic, improves air quality, and promotes a sustainable way of life. Join ASLA in urging our policymakers to support transportation for all.

Another thing ASLA advocates for is “community design and development“:

ASLA actively encourages communities to create or improve access to places that enable physical activity, including parks, recreational facilities, bicycle paths, walking trails, and sidewalks.

Ms. Raab hasn’t hidden the fact that she’s an environmental activist. That puts her opinions into question. It’s apparent that she believes in the green lifestyle. That, in turn, raises the question of whether she’s questioned any of this study’s findings.

It isn’t a stretch to question whether there’s anything objective about her.

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This article by Kirsti Marohn raises questions about St. Cloud’s ability to attract regional air service to the airport. At this point, it’s difficult to see St. Cloud attracting another air carrier to the airport:

Boyd said St. Cloud should pat itself on the back for securing the United service, even if it only lasted 10 months. “That’s an achievement,” he said. “You attracted the best regional airline … You don’t do any better than that.”

The problem is, experts say, the odds are stacked against a city this size to find another airline interested in providing service. St. Cloud is not alone. “When smaller airports lie in the shadow of a much larger airport, they’re finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain air service, and St. Cloud certainly fits that mold,” said William Swelbar, research engineer in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s International Center for Air Transportation and an airline industry analyst.

At this point, it’s difficult to picture another airline coming to St. Cloud for anything other than for the guaranteed money, then leaving the minute the money runs out. It’s probably best to take King Banaian’s advice:

It’s time to do a deep think before raising a few more million dollars to approach another airline, said King Banaian, economics professor at St. Cloud State University. “I think you pause and assess what happened,” Banaian said. “We thought we had the success.”

Albert Einstein famously said that doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. That’s the cycle St. Cloud is repeating. I know Mayor Kleis wants to attract another airline to St. Cloud. He’s fighting a valiant fight. He’s expended tons of energy trying to make that a reality.

Unfortunately, the verdict is in:

“I don’t know of any community in America that has tried harder and had more civic commitment to make this work,” said Michael Boyd, president of Colorado-based aviation consulting firm Boyd Group International. “You did the best you can, and now you’ve learned. There is no other airline.” For St. Cloud residents seeking access to the rest of the world, “your airport is Minneapolis. That’s not going to change,” Boyd said.

Mayor Kleis is trying to get the legislature to loan the City $2,000,000 to attract another airline. There’s little enthusiasm on either side of the aisle for that type of loan. Even if there was, it would be a terrible deal for Minnesota taxpayers and St. Cloud taxpayers.

There’s virtually no chance that a different airline will come to St. Cloud. If one came, the odds that they’d stay after the loan dried up would be tiny, if not officially nonexistent. What Mayor Kleis hasn’t admitted yet is that there isn’t a market for what he’s pushing.

The question Mayor Kleis needs to ask himself is why he thinks thing would be different this time. If he won’t ask that question before asking for $2,000,000 that he’d need to repay, then perhaps it’s time that the legislature simply said no.

It’s time to admit that this priority won’t become a reality.

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I’ve written several articles about Move MN’s proposal to raise taxes on the middle class in the name of “transportation.” See here and here. I’ve written about Move MN’s agenda, which they write about here:

Accessible Transit Statewide
Transit is important to every community in Minnesota. Move MN supports closing a sales tax loophole by dedicating all of the sales tax from leased vehicles to suburban highways and Greater Minnesota transit.

The Twin Cities metro’s sales tax would be increased by ¾ cent and extended to the seven county metro area. It would fund improved transit connections in the metro area, increasing transit service hours and coverage. Ten percent would be set aside for bike/walk connection planning and implementation.

Additional Efficiencies & Greater Transparency
Move MN supports greater efficiency and transparency with transportation projects, in addition to finding new funding sources that meet long-term obligations for all modes. Move MN believes efficiency includes finding cost savings; minimizing construction impact on traffic, businesses and customers; using 21st century materials and practices; and prioritizing projects with the greatest community benefit.

Tuesday afternoon, Dan Ochsner interviewed Bethany Winkels, a field director with Move MN. During the interview, Ms. Winkels focused on fixing roads and bridges. Move MN’s website, however, talks about developing a comprehensive transportation strategy.

Talking up fixing roads and bridges in interviews but writing legislation that raises taxes to support transit expansion is deceptive, if not dishonest.

During the interview, Ms. Winkels spoke of Move MN’s 200 coalition partners. I’ve recreated that list of partners in these photos:

While many of the coalition members are directly associated with fixing roads and bridges, many aren’t. I’ve created a list of those organizations in this photo:

There’s no disputing that the vast majority of these coalition members are environmental activist organizations. Their agenda doesn’t put a high priority on fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges. That’s as accurate of a picture as I can create of who Move MN is and what their agenda is.

One of the worst-kept political secrets is that the DFL is fighting with itself. That isn’t secret anymore because Gov. Dayton announced that he’s cutting the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s budget:

Dayton was nothing if not transparent about the move. The budget materials given to reporters before the late-morning briefing stated that the total of $3.77 million in reductions to the Park Board over the two-year budget period was due to “the Board’s continuing efforts to obstruct progress on the Southwest Light Rail Transit project.”

Of the total, $1.26 million would have come out of the state general fund and $2.51 million out of the natural resources fund, money intended to help the Met Council and 10 local park agencies develop and maintain parks that are regional destinations (think Minnehaha Falls). The money that would be lost by the Minneapolis board goes toward annual operating costs.

When asked about it, Dayton said it was possible he would support restoring the money, if the Park Board ended it opposition. “In my view, if they have all this money to hire consultants, they don’t need all the state money that’s been allocated to them.” Dayton said. He described the board’s actions so far as “very irresponsible.”

First, I’m totally fine with cutting the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s appropriation through the state budget. If Minneapolis wants a Park and Recreation Board, let them pay for it. In fact, eliminating the state government appropriation is justifiable, in my opinion.

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s advocates will argue that they add value to the state. That’s disputable at best. It might help Minnesota tangentially. In fact, I don’t know that a compelling case can be made that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board makes Minneapolis substantially better.

Most importantly, this is a perfect example of why Speaker Daudt shouldn’t consider funding the Southwest Light Rail Transit project, aka the SWLRT project. The DFL is still fighting with itself on the SWLRT project. Next, regardless of whether the DFL is fighting amongst itself, the SWLRT project is a major waste of money. It’s spending tons of Minnesota taxpayers’ money on something that isn’t a priority with Minnesota’s taxpayers.

The DFL a) is proposing a massive middle class tax increase, b) is still fighting with itself on how to spend your money on their friends and c) is telling Minnesota that paying off their political allies is more important than spending your money wisely.

To use Scott Walker’s words, going big and being bold is the way to differentiate between the DFL’s payoffs and the conservatives’ priorities. Going bold is the way for Republicans to win the legislative fight in 2015, then win the 2016 election.

A political party divided against itself will soon be defeated.

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It’s clear that Gov. Dayton’s Tax-the-Rich promise is history:

Minnesota drivers would pay more at the pump and at the Department of Motor Vehicles under a plan formally rolled out by Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday, but he says the money would provide vitally needed improvements to roads, bridges and mass transit in Minnesota.

In 2010, Gov. Dayton harshly criticized Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner’s cigarette tax, saying that Minnesota needed a more progressive tax system. More importantly, where’s the proof that Minnesota’s transit system has a lengthy list of “vitally needed improvements”? I’ll stipulate that Minnesota’s transit lobbyists have a lengthy wish list of transit projects but I won’t stipulate that there’s a lengthy list of transit needs.

It’s indisputable that roads and bridges need fixing. It’s disputable that we need another DFL middle class tax increase to fix Minnesota’s roads and bridges. It’s indisputable fact that the DFL raised taxes and fees by $2.4 billion for the biennium that started on July 1, 2013. It’s indisputable that Gov. Dayton, the DFL and the transit lobbyist wing of the DFL want to raise taxes on the middle class by $1.7 billion for the biennium that starts on July 1, 2015.

That’s more than $4,000,000,000 in tax increases that the DFL wants to punish the middle class with in each biennium. The DFL’s thirst for increasing taxes is insatiable.

Think of it this way. Oil companies took advantage of the fracking boom, which led to a dramatic drop in gas prices. Gas is less than $2.00/gallon, compared with $3.50/gallon before the fracking boom. The free market giveth cheap oil prices. DFL politicians want to make gas more expensive.

In addition to DFL politicians like Gov. Dayton wanting to punish middle class car drivers with higher gas prices and higher taxes, these same DFL politicians want to force outstate Minnesotans to pay for a transit system they don’t want and will never use.

I don’t care about expanding Twin Cities transit options. They’re virtually invisible to me. I want the DFL to stop focusing on transit. I’d rather they focused on what’s important, namely fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges. The top 3 priorities for Minnesota’s politicians should be a) fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges, b) fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges and c) fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges.

Gov. Dayton’s spin is nauseating:

“It takes some political courage” to approve tax increases, he said, which in this case would not only add a new gas tax but also but also raise vehicle license fees, charge $10 more for car registrations and increase a Twin Cities sales tax. He also pledges to find $600 million from the Minnesota Department of Transportation doing things more efficiently.

That’s stunning. When House Republicans offered their proposal, it included a call for greater efficiencies within MnDOT. At the time, Gov. Dayton insisted that the Republicans’ plans were “pure fantasy.” Now that he’s proposing greater efficiency within MnDOT, he’s dropped the mean-spirited accusations.

Imagine that.

Further, it doesn’t take political courage to raise taxes. If DFL is behind your name, raising taxes is virtually reflexive. It’s like you can raise taxes without blinking an eyelash. If you’re a Republican, raising taxes doesn’t require courage. It requires a brief bout of insanity.

Gov. Dayton’s latest middle class tax increase is his latest attempt to punish the middle class. Gov. Dayton and the DFL should be ashamed of themselves for inflicting this much punishment on the middle class.

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Move MN’s motivation is laid out beautifully on their agenda webpage:

In order to address the challenges in our current transportation system, new funding must:

  1. Be comprehensive to address, roads, bridges, transit, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
  2. Equitably balance the transportation needs of Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro area.
  3. Be a long-term, sustainable funding solution that is gimmick-free and dedicated only to fixing transportation.

First, Move MN is part of the DFL. It has an arm’s length relationship from the DFL only because it was first put together by Darin Broton, a DFL activist/operative. This is red flag city:

We are calling on the Minnesota Legislature to pass a comprehensive transportation funding solution in 2015 that requires additional transparency and efficiency for current resources.

Anytime people talk about comprehensive anything, I break into a cold sweat. That’s because comprehensive plans automatically contain things from lobbyists’ wish lists that the public doesn’t care about.

Here’s a radical thought. Let’s focus totally on fixing roads and bridges and expanding highways. As a motorist, that’s all I care about. If the Twin Cities wants trolley cars and light rail corridors, that’s their problem.

Here’s another radical thought. If the Twin Cities or other cities want to build “bike and pedestrian infrastructure”, let them pay for it. I’m betting that building “bike and pedestrian infrastructure” isn’t a priority with people. Cities that want those things can propose tax increases to their citizens to pay for those things.

The we’re-in-this-together sales pitch doesn’t work with me. If Minneapolis wants to spend $500,000 on 10 artistic drinking fountains, that’s their right. It isn’t their right to have taxpayers across the state help pay for those drinking fountains.

Next, let’s stop using inflated numbers to make it look like there’s a funding crisis:

In 2012, the Transportation Finance Advisory Committee projected we needed $250 million a year to “maintain” our state roads and bridges. Today, Gov. Dayton says we need $400 million. In 2012, TFAC projected we needed $210 million a year to build out the Twin Cities transit system. Today, Gov. Dayton says we need $280 million.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a 50% increase in costs over 2 years. Actually, it’s a 47.8% increase but what’s 2.2% amongst friends, right?

Finally, let’s stop with the we-need-sustainable-funding-that’s-dedicated-only-to-fixing-transportation’ gimmick. Let’s start with this thought. Let’s fund only those things that are priorities. Fixing roads and bridges is a priority. Expanding highways is a priority. Building the Southwest Light Rail Transit project isn’t a priority. In fact, raising taxes to fund the building of the SWLRT is theft because it’s embroiled in a major dispute at the moment. The DFL can’t decide on the project’s path. Why should we pay for something that’s a total mess with no solution in sight?

Move MN’s motivation is clear. It’s just the DFL disguising itself while attempting to raise taxes to pay for things we don’t need. Here’s hoping Kurt Daudt and the House Republican majority continue telling the DFL’s lobbyists to take a hike…on their dime.

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Scott Brener’s op-ed in this morning’s St. Cloud Times introduces some important questions into the transportation debate at the state legislature. Here’s an example:

In 2012, the Transportation Finance Advisory Committee projected we needed $250 million a year to “maintain” our state roads and bridges. Today, Gov. Dayton says we need $400 million.

Gov. Dayton’s math is terrifying. What he’s saying is that the cost of maintaining Minnesota’s roads and bridges cost 60% more now than they did 2 years ago. High school math says that that’s a 30% increase per year.

That isn’t an estimate. That’s fiction. It’s insulting, too.

Here’s another piece of data that needs to be introduced into the transportation conversation:

In 2012, TFAC projected we needed $210 million a year to build out the Twin Cities transit system. Today, Gov. Dayton says we need $280 million.

That’s a 33% increase in 2 years. Forgive me if I’m skeptical of Gov. Dayton’s estimates. This is worthy of debating, too:

Someone must ask: Are other government services any less long term and in need of stable funding than transportation? If the answer is “no,” then why is it appropriate to fund, say, health care services with those dollars but not transportation? Thirty-three states use the general fund to supplement financing for state roads and bridges. This also could force everyone to redouble efforts to redesign the delivery of all state programs and services.

There’s nothing in the state constitution that prohibits using general funds on repairing roads and bridges. Neither is there anything in Minnesota state statutes that prohibits using general funds on repairing roads and bridges.

There is something, however, in the DFL’s DNA that prohibits them from using general funds to repair roads and bridges. The DFL is reflexively opposed to using general funds to repair roads and bridges because the DFL insists that general funds be spent to pay off their special interest allies.

Each session, the DFL enters with the mindset that they need to increase spending to pay off the environmental activists, the farmers, the nonprofits and the bureaucrats that form their political base. This isn’t about fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges. Move MN, Gov. Dayton and the DFL constantly talk about transportation. The DFL has consistently talked about raising the wholesale gas tax, the license plate fees and the metro sales tax. At this point, only the gas tax can be used for road and bridge repair projects.

Kurt Daudt has talked consistently about fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges. He’s ruled out funding the SWLRT. Period. Move MN’s agenda includes lower priority items:

Accessible Transit Statewide
Transit is important to every community in Minnesota. Move MN supports closing a sales tax loophole by dedicating all of the sales tax from leased vehicles to suburban highways and Greater Minnesota transit.

The Twin Cities metro’s sales tax would be increased by ¾ cent and extended to the seven county metro area. It would fund improved transit connections in the metro area, increasing transit service hours and coverage. Ten percent would be set aside for bike/walk connection planning and implementation.

In short, Move MN’s agenda isn’t rural Minnesota’s agenda. Hell, it isn’t event exurban Minnesota’s agenda.

Move MN’s agenda is the Twin Cities DFL’s agenda. The Twin Cities DFL’s agenda includes “bike/walk connection planning and implementation.” If that’s true, then they can take a hike on raising taxes.

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Rep. Paul Marquardt’s diatribe is mostly deceptive, if not downright dishonest:

During the campaign, Knoblach and his Republican allies committed to fixing our state’s crumbling roads and bridges. But new House Speaker Kurt Daudt already has admitted that Republicans “may not be able to solve this on the long-term basis.” And the so-called plan Republicans offered certainly isn’t a fix. It’s not even a bandage!

First, the House Republicans’ so-called plan isn’t their final plan. The thing that Rep. Marquardt is criticizing is a partial plan of what Republicans intend to do. Think of it as the opening position in negotiations with the DFL on a final transportation bill.

As dishonest as that part of Marquardt’s diatribe is, this part is worse:

To make matters worse, the House GOP’s top legislative priority is to cut taxes for corporations.

I’ve read the Republicans’ Tax Bill. It doesn’t cut corporations’ taxes. That’s the DFL’s reflexive lie that they use on any Republican legislation on taxes. Within a split-second of Republicans proposing tax legislation, the DFL reflexively and dishonestly accuses Republicans of wanting to cut taxes on multinational corporations at the expense of the middle class.

It’s so reflexive of the DFL to make that accusation that I can recite that DFL Chanting Point backwards, frontwards and in my sleep if my life depended on it. Actually, I’m confident I could recite that Chanting Point in my sleep even if my life didn’t depend on it.

I don’t officially speak for Jim Knoblach but I’m confident I can answer Marquardt’s question:

Will Knoblach stick with his party boss’s plans that favor corporate special interests over rural roads and bridges, or will he make good on his promise to fix our state’s transportation system?

Before answering that question, I’d really appreciate it if Rep. Marquardt used the proper spelling. In this instance, it shouldn’t read “Will Knoblach stick with his party boss’s plans.” It should read “Will Knoblach stick with his party bosses’ plans”? because Rep. Marquardt is referring to multiple party bosses. But I digress.

The answer is that Jim Knoblach will properly represent the views of his constituents. Having known Jim for quite a few years, I know with certainty that he’s a man who listens to his constituents.

It’s clear from this article that DFL legislators are jumping aboard the Metrocrat DFL’s transportation package:

Range legislators and the governor recently addressed the issue in telephone interviews with the Mesabi Daily News.

“The gas tax is one if the most unpopular taxes there is,” said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm. “But when we ask if people want roads and bridges fixed, 80 percent say yes … then an extra dime on the gas tax and 80 percent say no.”

Other Range legislators expressed support for raising Gov. Dayton’s transportation bill, too:

Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, has one of the biggest road/bridge projects scheduled in the state, the Highway 53 relocation venture that will require a new bridge spanning the Rouchleau Pit, that will require a lot of MnDOT dollars. “I support a gas tax increase. We have Highway 53 … and there are projects like that all over the state.”

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said he would back a gas tax increase if it is part of a “sweeping change” for funding roads and bridges. “A gas tax increase is no good for rural folks … but we also use a lot of roads,” Dill said. “We have serious problems and our job is to fix them. The longer we take, the shorter is the long-term.”

It’s worth noticing what these legislators didn’t say. They didn’t mention the other tax increases in Gov. Dayton’s and Move MN’s plans. It’s still possible that they support raising the other taxes and fees, too. It’s just that they weren’t mentioned in this article.

I predicted that the DFL would return to ask for another tax increase shortly after the DFL passed a gas tax increase in 2008. I said then that that bill raised taxes and fees that didn’t fix roads and bridges. I said then that too many of the tax increases were dedicated for transit projects that did nothing for fixing roads and bridges.

It isn’t surprising that the DFL is returning to raise the same taxes that they raised in 2008. It isn’t surprising that Gov. Dayton and the DFL is telling people that their transportation bill is to fix Minnesota’s roads and bridges.

The DFL said the same thing then that they’re saying now. This isn’t surprising. It’s just frustrating that Gov. Dayton and the DFL are attempting to raise taxes to pay for additional transit projects, aka DFL ribbon-cutting ceremonies, while telling Minnesotans that they’re just trying to fix outstate Minnesota’s roads and bridges.

All I’m hoping for is a little honest from the DFL. Apparently, that’s asking too much of the DFL.

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