With majorities in both houses and a president looking to cut budgets in Washington, there were several factors working against the Met Council this session.
Last session the Republican House held the line against building new light rail lines in the South West Corridor and the Northwest Bottineau Line. Although Advocates used every trick in the book to get these projects started with borrowed money, they are now having to come to grips with the idea that the state and the Feds won’t be underwriting them. They will be paid for by the cities and counties that want them and by whatever they can get from the fair box.
The Met Council governance structure has presented a problem for some time. It’s made up of 14 members who are supposed to represent districts in the metro region. These districts overlap counties, cities and legislative districts. The members are appointed by the Governor, giving him the biggest role in the Met Council’s direction. The director of the Met Council was formerly a part time position but under Governor Dayton, it has become a full-time position on the same level as a commissioner.
In the past, there have been 2 ways that Republican critics have seen to address the Met Council. One is to abolish it and assign its roles to state agencies. The second is to change the governance structure. (1) Make its members local government officials who are elected in their own districts, cities or towns. (2) Stagger the terms so that all the members don’t turn over at once.
We have always supported the first solution, abolish and reassign because we don’t think changing the governance structure will do enough to limit the Met Council's power, which is the heart of the problem here. It’s an executive encroachment on both legislative and local government power. Putting a few mayors or commissioners on it won’t solve that. Nor will staggering the terms. Instead, what is most likely to happen is that it would continue to grow, unchecked and unaccountable by any other layer of government.
Testimony from local government officials and lobbyists was uniformly opposed but revealed some interesting facts. Minnesota has a TAB (Transportation Authority Board) which advises the Met Council on Transportation related matters. The members of the TAB board are elected officials. But in the end, the Met Council makes the decisions so an unelected board makes decisions but the elected board serves only in an advisory capacity. This is backward in terms of accountability and in the eyes of the Federal Government. Opponents did raise the issue the issue of conflict of interest of having city and county officials also serve on the Met Council. But this only points to the tangled, multiple levels of government that serve government and not the citizen/taxpayer, making accountability nearly impossible.
At the heart of the question is the issue of “regionalism.” Do we really need to have another layer of government which reflects the needs of regions, which exist outside of other geographical political entities like legislative districts, cities, counties and school districts? Especially when this regional authorities’ power trumps all the other regions? A Met Council district is roughly the size of 2 Senate Districts. The Met council’s capital and operating budget are not contingent on legislative approval. They get money from the state and directly from the federal government. What we have here is an entity which is essentially competing with the legislature for power and resources.
But the Governor plays a key role here since changing the Met Council through legislation requires a bill with his signature. And this Governor supports the concept of a Met Council and would like to expand it's reach and powers further into the suburbs. So anything that curtails or limits it's automony or authority is likely to be stopped cold.
Major Points of HF 1866 The House Transportation Policy and Regional Governance.
*Municipal committees are committees made up of representatives of all the cities in a Met Council district.
HF 1866 is waiting to be heard in the Ways and Means Committee. It may get held back as part of a global deal for the session However, it may also get voted on by both bodies and sail through conference committee and to the governor's desk for a quick veto. In fact, the faster it appears, the less likely it will be that it is part of some negotiation and is destined for failure this session.