Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

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.

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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:

  1. $140 million in trunk highway bonds for rerouting Highway 53, for $12.1 million in debt service
  2. $5 million for Greater Minnesota Transit
  3. $5 million for rail grade crossing safety
  4. $12.5 million to help small cities with fewer than 5,000 residents with their roads
  5. An increase in the fine for repeat texting-while-driving offenses to $225
  6. 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.

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Since he won re-election, Gov. Dayton has said he isn’t bound by the same limits as when he was facing another election. Now that he’s announced that he’s run in his last campaign, Gov. Dayton has been a stubborn ideologue who doesn’t give a rip about what Minnesotans want.

Though 75% of the state supports a transportation plan that doesn’t include a tax increase, Gov. Dayton and the DFL continue to insist on a gas tax increase. Here’s a list of articles from lobbyists imploring Republicans to cave on their promise not to raise the gas tax:

Business supports transportation funding solution
Our View: Highway 14 gains with DFL plan
MnDOT Commissioners: Money must be adequate and dedicated
Guest Opinion: Transportation in Brainerd is a critical investment
Business groups continue push for transportation funding

Those are just some of the articles Gov. Dayton included in his daily email yesterday. It’s particularly cruel that the Mankato Free Press is using Highway 14 in its editorial. In 2008, Margaret Anderson-Kelliher promised Rep. Rod Hamilton that Highway 14 would get built if he voted to override Gov. Pawlenty’s veto. (Reminder: Rep. Hamilton kept his promise. The DFL didn’t.)

But I digress.

In his first term, Gov. Dayton worked in bipartisan fashion, including on Rep. Dan Fabian’s permitting reform legislation. That isn’t happening anymore. Gov. Dayton’s top priority is universal pre-K. Both the House and Senate rejected Gov. Dayton’s proposal to spend $343,000,000. Gov. Dayton didn’t get the hint from the bipartisan rejection of his plan. He’s still insisting on his proposal.

This is just theory but I’m betting that Gov. Dayton’s insistence on universal pre-K is a product of him wanting a legacy item. If it costs him DFL control of the Senate, he appears willing to sacrifice DFL senators to accomplish it.

What “Dayton unbound” means is that he isn’t hiding his extremism anymore. Gov. Dayton isn’t pretending to be a gentleman anymore.

If Gov. Dayton continues acting this way, his legacy will be tinged with reminders that he was a loose cannon with a short temper.

A group of DFL senators are getting pressured this week over the Dayton-DFL gas tax increase:

Vulnerable DFL senators in eight districts are getting hit with a barrage of ads in the closing days of the legislative session criticizing their stance on a proposed gas tax increase.

Here are the senators:

Matt Schmit, Red Wing
Vicki Jensen, Owatonna
LeRoy Stumpf, Plummer
Lyle Koenen, Clara City
Kevin Dahle, Northfield
Greg Clausen, Apple Valley
Melisa Franzen, Edina
Bev Scalze, Little Canada

Some of these senators should be worried because they aren’t just getting pressured to not support the DFL’s gas tax increase. They’re also on this list:

This matter originated with the filing of a series of complaints by the Republican Party of Minnesota (RPM) alleging that the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) State Central Committee (the Central Committee Party Unit), the Minnesota DFL Senate Caucus party unit (the Senate Caucus Party Unit), and various DFL Senate candidates violated Minnesota Statutes Chapter 10A as a result of classifying printed communications as independent expenditures when the communications were not, in fact, independent of the affected candidates.

On October 11, 2012, the Board received the first complaints in this series, relating to communications advocating the elections of Alice Johnson, Jim Carlson, Julie Bunn, Melisa Franzen and Vicki Jensen. On October 18, 2012, the RPM filed an additional complaint regarding communications advocating the election of Alan Oberloh. On November 2, 2012, the RPM filed three additional complaints alleging the same conduct and violations relating to communications advocating the elections of Laurie McKendry, Matt Schmit, and Tom Saxhaug.

Then there’s this:

Based on the information discovered about additional candidates and additional communications, the Board, by formal vote in executive session at its meeting of June 10, 2013, expanded its investigation to include the two additional candidates who participated in Pivot photo shoots, Kent Eken and Kevin Dahle, and to expand the investigation to include all literature distributed by the DFL that used images from the photo shoots.

Of the 8 senators that the Minnesota Jobs Coalition is running ads against, 4 were caught coordinating their campaign expenditures with various DFL campaign committees. Unfortunately for the DFL, that scandal was expanded further to include these candidates:

At its meeting of August 6, 2013, by formal vote in executive session, the Board expanded its investigation to include Lyle Koenen, Susan Kent, and Greg Clausen, the additional candidates who participated in the Compass photo shoots.

Six of the senators that are getting hit with the Minnesota Jobs Coalition ads are in a difficult situation because they committed a major campaign finance infraction, too. The question these senators have to ask is whether they’d rather lose their election by voting for the DFL gas tax increase. Raising the gas tax isn’t popular. That’s why it’s a bit puzzling to see Sen. Bakk forcing this on his senators.

Predictably, transportation lobbyists have started turning up the heat:

No one likes paying taxes and people get understandably nervous when they hear about the possibility of their taxes going up. But the fact of the matter is that we need taxes, not just to expand but to repair and maintain existing infrastructure. Roads and bridges are the core of government’s mission, and Minnesotans expect their roads to be safe. We cannot be afraid of the tough choices to provide core services and ensure road safety.

The key is to make sure that new money is dedicated to transportation; if money dedicated to transportation now can be shifted to cover a budget deficit a few years down the road, it doesn’t fix the problem. Governor Dayton’s proposal includes new, dedicated revenue for transportation that can’t be easily shifted when times get tough.

The argument that taxes that aren’t constitutionally dedicated to fixing roads and bridges don’t fix the problem is ridiculous. First, Republicans proposed the creation of the Transportation Stability Fund. Sales taxes already are being collected on auto parts, rental cars and leased vehicles. The DFL hasn’t explained why sales taxes on vehicles shouldn’t pay for road repairs. Next, the DFL hasn’t said why we shouldn’t put the TSF on the ballot as a constitutional amendment.

The DFL has repeatedly said that someone might raid the TSF if there’s another deficit. What they’re really saying is that the DFL might raid it if there’s a deficit. Republicans won’t because they badly want the TSF to work.

Brainerd is growing, due in large part to the hard work of the people who live here. But in order to continue to grow, we need our infrastructure to grow with us. Some of that work is already underway; for the past few years, Highway 371 has been expanded across our region, and the four-lane expansion between Nisswa to Jenkins beginning in 2016 will bring added benefit to the whole Brainerd lakes area. But we need to do better to meet the current needs of our businesses and residents, and we need to do a better job of maintaining what we already have.

The DFL’s latest transportation plan failed miserably. In 2008, they passed a nickel-a-gallon gas tax, promising that it would supply sufficient funding to clear up our backlog of transportation projects for a generation.

Now the DFL is back, insisting that “we need to do a better job of maintaining what we already have”, essentially admitting that their 2008 plan failed. The DFL didn’t hesitate about lying, either:

Unfortunately, we face a significant ongoing shortfall that cannot be met with a one-time shift of funds that are being fought over by many competing interests.

That’s a lie:

Much of the magic in the math involves the inflation rate used to calculate construction costs in the Minnesota Transportation Finance Advisory Committee’s 2012 report, upon which legislators and policymakers rely.

The state plugs in an inflation factor of 5 percent, more than twice the Consumer Price index average over the past 12 years. The Federal Highway Administration inflation factor for projects averaged 1.1 percent; the American Road and Transportation Building Association averaged 3.1 percent inflation during the same period, according to the report.

In other words, the DFL-appointed MnDOT commissioner is cooking the books to make it look like they need 2-4 times as much money as they really need. MnDOT’s inflation factor is 5%. The Federal Highway Administration inflation rate is 1.1%. It’s a safe bet that MnDOT’s cooking the books.

My LTE highlights the fact that Gov. Dayton and the DFL should be blamed if there’s a state government shutdown. Anyways, here’s the opening to my article:

With little time left in the Minnesota legislative regular session, there’s a pretty decent chance there will be a special session. If that happens, Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL should get the lion’s share of the blame. Here’s why:

Dayton’s highest priority this session is universal pre-K. The DFL Senate and the Republican House agreed it shouldn’t be funded at Dayton’s level, which is $343 million. In fact, the House and Senate didn’t fund it at all.

Needless to say, my LTE was rejected by the fringe activists that make up the dominant wing of the DFL. Here’s the source for my LTE:

Dayton wants to spend $343 million for universal pre-K and scholarships. He believes it would get 47,000 young students get ready for kindergarten. But legislative leaders didn’t even include universal pre-K in their budget proposals. “The House is zero, the Senate is zero,” Dayton told reporters. “I consider that, A, unacceptable, and B, insulting.”

That’s verifiable proof that there was a bipartisan rejection of Gov. Dayton’s pre-K spending initiative. It isn’t disputable.

Next, it’s important to highlight the fact that the cost of fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges overshoots the price tag:

“When we’re talking about significant investments of taxpayer dollars, I think it’s always worth asking how did we come to this number, what assumptions led to it, and are there other assumptions that could have been used to improve that number one way or another,” said Bentley Graves, director of transportation policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, one of 10 business associations funding the study.

Much of the magic in the math involves the inflation rate used to calculate construction costs in the Minnesota Transportation Finance Advisory Committee’s 2012 report, upon which legislators and policymakers rely.

The state plugs in an inflation factor of 5 percent, more than twice the Consumer Price index average over the past 12 years. The Federal Highway Administration inflation factor for projects averaged 1.1 percent; the American Road and Transportation Building Association averaged 3.1 percent inflation during the same period, according to the report.

Thanks to this report, we know that we don’t need to raise taxes by $13,000,000,000 to fix Minnesota’s bridges and fill Minnesota’s potholed roads.

If Gov. Dayton wants to shut Minnesota state government down, all he has to do is insist that we raise the gas tax and pay for universal pre-K. The DFL Senate opposes spending $343,000,000 on pre-K. 75% of Minnesotans polled by KSTP approve of the GOP transportation plan while 17% of Minnesotans reject the plan.

In other words, all Gov. Dayton has to do to shut state government down is defy the DFL Senate on pre-K and thumb his nose at three-fourths of Minnesotans on the gas tax.

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D.J. Tice’s article is instructive in that it brings up Gov. Dayton’s legacy and how the media influence it:

All this may be on the minds of Daudt and Bakk (assuming they squeeze in any time to think about politics while meditating on what’s best for Minnesota). They each have to lead a majority into electoral battle next year.

The complicated dance both are performing became evident in this session’s early days, when Dayton’s move to give rich raises to his Cabinet members inspired Bakk to revolt and Daudt to play peacemaker between an irritated governor and a Senate boss who wasn’t prepared to see his members take the rap for any coddling of bureaucrats.

Dayton is largely free of such worries, having run his last campaign. Even if he’s concerned about positioning the next DFL gubernatorial candidacy, that race is almost four years away. He has declared himself “unbound,” and if some think it’s more like “unglued,” they should once and for all stop underestimating Dayton’s strategic shrewdness.

What Tice essentially did was indict the media, himself included, by highlighting the fact that Sen. Bakk has to play politics enough to get re-elected whereas Gov. Dayton is free to be the ideologue he’s always wanted to be.

Gov. Dayton, Tice admits, doesn’t have to care about doing what’s right. He just has to please the DFL’s special interest allies, then let the media write Gov. Dayton’s legacy. Gov. Dayton doesn’t have to worry about his legacy because he knows that the Twin Cities Praetorian Guard will speak of him like he’s Minnesota’s greatest governor. It doesn’t matter that Gov. Dayton’s policies have driven businesses from Minnesota. It doesn’t matter that Gov. Dayton made “historic investments” in education, only to have the achievement gap widen and property taxes skyrocket.

Rather than the Strib writing about who’s winning or losing the political fights, perhaps they should write about what’s actually in the bills. Articles that actually listed the pros and cons of a bill would help voters know what’s going on. Apparently, the Strib thinks it’s more important to write a false legacy for Gov. Dayton than it is to write honest articles that include hard-hitting questions.

As long as the articles only talk about who’s winning politically, We The People lose. It’s time to end the superficial ‘reporting’ that only talks about whether Gov. Dayton is winning or Speaker Daudt will have difficulty keeping his caucus together. (He won’t.) Real reporting and commentary focuses on whether We The People are represented or whether the DFL’s special interests prevail.

So far, Dayton seems to be revisiting his 2011 strategy, digging in on his priorities and daring legislative leaders to risk a shutdown and the resulting voter displeasure. His big asks this time, a middle-class tax hike to fund transportation and an expansion of the education establishment for universal preschool, constitute a boldly liberal continuation of his agenda when the DFL controlled the entire Legislature.

But in this year’s complex three-part disharmony, an incumbent-wounding stalemate could be the undoing of Senate Democrats as easily as House Republicans, while striking too much of a big-government pose also may do for Bakk what it did for Thissen.

There is another possibility that isn’t expressed. It’s possible that Gov. Dayton and the DFL support policies that a) don’t solve problems and b) go against the will of the people. Realistically, there isn’t a great groundswell of support for universal pre-K. It’s true that Education Minnesota supports it but that’s about it. Honestly, there isn’t a great groundswell of support for a gas tax increase anywhere in the state with the exception of the member organizations of Move MN.

If Tice actually wrote about that, perhaps we’d get to live in a state that puts a higher priority on doing the right thing that they put on doing what the special interests want.

To: Kurt Daudt, David Hann
From: Gary Gross
Subject: Transportation negotiations

Considering the fact that rank-and-file Minnesotans have stated emphatically that they won’t cheerfully accept another tax increase, GOP leadership in the Minnesota legislature shouldn’t attempt to strike a deal with Gov. Dayton and DFL leadership that includes a gas tax increase. Period. Tax increases are totally off the table. If Gov. Dayton wants to throw another hissy fit, that’s fine. The GOP should record Gov. Dayton’s hissy fit and upload it to YouTube.

There are some things Speaker Daudt and Sen. Hann should forever keep in mind during these negotiations. Here are the things that they shouldn’t forget, in order of importance:

  1. The last time the DFL pushed a gas tax increase, they promised it would solve our underfunding of roads and bridges for the next 20 years. That was 2008. It’s 2015 and they’re back, this time insisting that a significantly bigger tax increase is needed. Don’t double down on the DFL’s failure.
  2. The GOP plan is popular. Insist that the DFL adopt the GOP plan or face a major advertising campaign from now through Election Day. Tell them that every vulnerable DFL legislator in the House and Senate will be targeted with advertising that tells their constituents that they voted for a gas tax increase.
  3. You’re building trust with Republican activists and independents by being straight shooters. Don’t throw that away by agreeing to a transportation compromise that includes a gas tax increase. Accepting a tax increase will be seen as a betrayal. That will lead to Republicans losing the House and the DFL holding the Senate in 2016. (Remember the disaster the last time the DFL controlled the House and Senate and held the governorship?)
  4. Keep pressure on the DFL by addressing the press anytime they’re available. Remind them that the DFL’s last transportation bill was a failure. Remind them, too, that 75% of Minnesotans agreed with the GOP transportation plan and that 51% of Minnesotans rejected the DFL’s plan.

It’s important to constantly switch the conversation away from transportation. Constantly drag the conversation back to fixing Minnesota’s potholed roads and highways. Outside the Twin Cities, it’s difficult to find a dozen transit advocates. Outside the Twin Cities, it’s impossible to find a person who’s happy with Minnesota’s potholed roads.

Play to those facts. Portray the DFL as who they are — the political party who listen to the special interests and the lobbyists while reminding them that a) Republicans listened to their constituents before the session started and b) Republicans are still listening to their constituents by refusing to raise gas taxes.

This ad from Move MN is typical DFL gimmickry:

Here’s the transcript:

We hear a lot about fiscal responsibility but when it comes to Minnesota’s transportation, some legislators in St. Paul are avoiding it. They’ve proposed a plan to fix Minnesota’s roads and bridges and promise it will not cost you one red cent. It seems to good to be true and it is. The Minnesota House is relying on budget gimmicks that won’t guarantee that our highways get fixed. Get the facts at Let’s fix transportation now and let’s do it right. Paid for by Move MN.

That’s slick advertising. It opens with talk about fixing “Minnesota’s transportation.” Then it shifts to fixing “Minnesota’s roads and bridges.” It closes with fixing transportation now and doing it right.

The House Transportation Bill focuses on fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges. Move MN’s goal is to raise taxes to pay for transit projects. These aren’t the same goals. Republicans have correctly identified Minnesotans’ priority as wanting to fix Minnesota’s bridges and filling in Minnesota’s potholes.

Talk to people in Alexandria or Albert Lea, Little Falls or Litchfield, Brainerd or Bemidji. Transit isn’t a priority with them. They want their roads resurfaced. They don’t give a rip about the SWLRT.

Move MN is the Ben Dogra of the transportation world. Move MN knows there isn’t a groundswell of support for light rail projects just like Dogra knew there wasn’t much interest in trading for Adrian Peterson so they tried to create the impression that there was interest.

That’s failed. Apathy for light rail killed the chances for a tax increase. It’s time Move MN admitted defeat.