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Summary of Meeting (Internal Discussion on transportation)

Civic Caucus, 8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437

Friday, November 28, 2008

Present:  Verne Johnson, chair; David Broden, Marianne Curry, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Dan Loritz, and Clarence Shallbetter

A.  Context of the meeting:  The Civic Caucus core group is taking a break today from its weekly schedule of interviews to look at what we might conclude from our several meetings on transportation policy.

B.  Review of the state's fiscal situation--Before getting into the main business of the day, we discussed the meeting with Jay Kiedrowski and John Gunyou on the state's fiscal situation.   Among points raised:

            --Employment is central--With 45 percent of the state's revenue coming from the income tax, and 27 percent from the sales tax, a total of 72 percent from income and sales taxes, it is clear that our state's fiscal situation is dependent upon people working in income-producing jobs.   They are ones whose incomes and purchases are subject to the taxes that produce the state's revenue. 

            We learned from Kiedrowski and Gunyou that the state faces a major challenge in coming years in producing an adequate supply of home-grown workers.  Moreover, there's a question of the adequacy of our education system in producing a qualified work force.  

            There's also a close tie between jobs and transportation.  We need a good transportation system to make it possible for people and goods to get to job locations. 

            And health care is a big part of the picture, particularly in the way it is driving the expenses of state government. 

            The Governor plays an absolutely central role on all three of those big issues--education, transportation, and health care--to help restore Minnesota's leadership role among the states.

C.   Transportation policy--We spent the balance of the meeting on transportation.   During the discussion the following points were raised:

            1.  Greater emphasis on guiding development than on easing congestion?--It has been increasingly clear that under current policy , advocates for rail are emphasizing the claimed benefits of rail to influence the placement of new residential and commercial development, rather than rail's impact on easing highway congestion.   The question is whether there's a consensus that funds should be increasingly placed on rail projects for development purposes as a more urgent need than investing in highway projects that would ease congestion.

               Attention should also focus on the amount of direct and indirect public funds spent on housing, for example, to achieve
 the development objective.  
               2.  Too little emphasis on suburb-to-suburb trips?--It's puzzling why so much emphasis is placed on rail when the
 terminal point is one or both of the downtowns that account for only 15 percent of the jobs, in light of the fact that much more 
congestion is evident on cross-metro trips not destined for the downtowns.

            3.  Forgetting about movement of goods, not just people--Good transportation is essential for the movement of goods throughout the state.  It seems as if all we're talking about is people getting around.   A strong economy requires that goods move quickly and efficiently and that goods transportation pays its share 

            4.  Enormous backlog of "needs" never likely to be satisfied--We're in a fantasy world if we think that everything drawn on a map will be built.   Hard choices must be made, not only among competing highway projects or among competing rail projects, but between highway and rail. 

            5.  We're making the job of setting priorities more difficult by isolating different revenue sources--Even as needs pile up, the state has created various ways of raising money that make it enormously difficult to balance investments among highways and rail and among different levels of government.

               6.  Availability of federal funds seems to be excessively important in setting priorities--We're kidding ourselves 
if we think that priorities are set within the state, based on needs determined here.  Too often new projects get undertaken simply
 because of a federal carrot.   If a nationally-financed public works is undertaken as part of economic recovery, projects undertaken
 within Minnesota ought to relate to priorities established within the state.  Federal carrots must also be carefully examined in terms
 of the subsequent operating costs and operating deficits resulting from new construction imposed on state and local budgets. 

            7.  Too little attention is given to revenue sources within transportation itself--In recent years transportation has been chipping away at the state's general revenue fund, making it more difficult to supply revenue for those services that have no other option than to seek revenue from the general fund.  It's possible in transportation, unlike many other state services, to identify users and beneficiaries and impose fees accordingly.

            8.  Not enough attention is being paid to operating expenses--A high and growing part of our bus and rail system are expenses not covered by fares, a proportion ranging from 60-80 percent of total operating expenses. 

               9.  Straight talk is essential--Have we lost our way in Minnesota transportation?   A comprehensive system of roads 
has been built, and needs to be maintained and upgraded, to serve the movement of goods and people throughout the state. 
In recent years, we seemingly now are interested in building a comprehensive system of rail on top of the existing system, whatever
 the cost, even as the cost of maintaining the existing system increases faster than the growth rate of the economy.  

Why? 

            10.  Are we ignoring the very people who need help the most?--Think of the employers who need workers and the individuals who need jobs.  Where is the strategy to bring the job-seekers to the jobs, wherever they are located?   Why isn't more attention being devoted to expanding the bus system, which is much more flexible than rail and can better serve lower income people wherever they live and work?

            11.  Where is leadership?--We can't help but wonder whether a key missing ingredient is leadership for the entire state, in one location, the Governor's office.  With transportation as critical as it is, shouldn't a statewide plan be essential?  Someone needs stand above the various fiefdoms that have grown up: one for rail; one for highways; one for rural; one for metro; one for counties; one for cities, one for goods movement; one for people; one for attacking congestion; one for directing development, and on and on. 

            12.  Absence of a coordinated statewide plan for highways, buses and rail--We noted that MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council both prepare major plans as required by state and federal law.  But they are doing so in an atmosphere that is incredibly fragmented, with many overlapping organizations and serious gaps. 

               Clearly, over the last several years rail transit has received considerably greater attention within the metro area, 
in planning and resources.   It is less clear how much comparative emphasis has been devoted to buses and to highways.
   A major bus rapid transit improvement is under way on I 35W and Hwy. 77 south from downtown Minneapolis to Apple Valley, 
Burnsville, and Lakeville.  That corridor is one of the busiest in the metro area.  Yet a much cheaper bus approach is being 
utilized than rail.  Why is rail, rather than bus, being touted as the preferred approach in less-congested corridors?  Why was 
highway lane expansion and rapid transit bus coordinated in development of I-35W but such coordinated planning was not done
 for the Central Corridor and I-94 between Minneapolis and st. Paul? What coordinated planning of highways and rail is being done
 for the southwest Hennepin County corridor?  

We agreed that a draft statement should be prepared and circulated to our 1,100 participants for their input. 

 Adjourn

 

The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   Verne C. Johnson, chair;  David Broden, Charles Clay, Marianne Curry, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje,  Jim Hetland,  Marina Lyon, Joe Mansky, John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  and Wayne Popham 

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
8301 Creekside Circle #920,   Bloomington, MN 55437.  civiccaucus@comcast.net
Verne C. Johnson, chair, 952-835-4549,       Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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