for PDF format
of Meeting with
Bob DeBoer, Curt Johnson, Sean Kershaw, Dee Long,
Roger Moe, Tim Penny
Civic Caucus, 8301 Creekside
Circle, Bloomington, MN
Friday, August 18, 2006
director of policy development, Citizens League;
Curt Johnson, former chair, Metropolitan
Council; Sean Kershaw, executive
director, Citizens League; Dee Long,
former Speaker, Minnesota House of Representatives;
Roger Moe, former majority leader,
Minnesota Senate; Tim Penny, former
member, U.S. House of Representatives
Verne Johnson, chair; Lee Canning, Chuck Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland (by
phone), John Mooty, and Jim Olson (by phone)
Context of today's meeting--The
Civic Caucus is reviewing a proposed amendment to the
state constitution, to be voted on in November, to dedicate the state's
motor vehicle sales tax (MVST) to transit and highways.
Today's speakers were invited to respond to a Caucus memo outlining pros
and cons of the amendment.
Dee Long's comments--Long
is on the board of directors of the
for Environmental Advocacy. She is also on the staff of Fresh
Energy, which is promoting a plug-in hybrid car that will be on display at
the Minnesota State Fair. She is working very hard for transit.
We need a good transit system, offering choices to people who have to
commute to their jobs. Passage of the amendment won't solve the
problems of transit, but it is one piece.
Long said she traditionally hasn't favored constitutional dedication of
revenues and would not vote for the environmental amendment that was
debated in the 2006 Legislature. But she sees the transportation
amendment as something different. Already Minnesota constitutionally
dedicates the gas tax and motor vehicle license fees to highways.
The MVST amendment provides a dedicated source of funds for transit.
Curt Johnson's comments--
1. Quiet, deep divisions among business leadership--Curt
Johnson served as a consultant to the Itasca Project, an organization of
CEOs making a big push for action on transportation. Some of the
CEOs were genuinely interested in solving transportation problems.
Others were entirely focused on the bottom line for their organizations.
He recalled a visit with a CEO of a very large Minnesota company.
After visiting for several minutes about possible solutions to the
transportation problem, the CEO said, "Good; we should do this."
Then as the two were parting, the CEO added, "Wait, this will require
revenue, taxes, and I don't know how I feel about that."
There's a big divide between people who an solutions and those who don't
want to raise taxes.
2. Enormous competition for energy worldwide--He reminded
people of enormous growth in demand in China and India for petroleum.
Now about 17 percent of the people own a car in those countries, and the
other 87 percent want one. Beijing is adding 1,500 cars a day.
3. Unfortunate attitude of
accuse him of overstating the problem, but Curt Johnson believes that the
Legislature today, more than ever, is made up of many people who believe
their job is to take and hold certain positions, not solve problems.
They take pride in their narrow agenda and have no discernable interest in
problem-solving. There's nothing he has seen that would
indicate the situation won't be worse after the next election.
4. Some encouraging leadership occurring at the city and
regional level--Curt Johnson cited
and Phoenix as examples of cities that took votes to tax themselves for
transit improvements. It is embarrassing for the Twin Cities
metropolitan area, a place that used to lead the nation, now having to
organize trips to see what can be done. He is encouraged by a
new group of 30 mayors in the Twin Cities area, the Regional Council of
Mayors, staffed by the Urban Land Institute. The
Regional Council includes the mayors of
St. Paul, Bloomington, Edina, Burnsville, Minnetonka, Anoka, Coon Rapids,
Waconia, and others.
cited a $5 billion transit expansion occurring in
that has come about only because of a coalition of mayors. Hardly
anyone was opposed except the Governor, who lost an election. `
5. Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) not in good
shape--Curt Johnson described MnDOT as a "mess". It
barely has enough funds to keep the lights on. It is engaging in all
kinds of fiscal games, including trying to get the contractors to lend
money for construction. He said MnDOT reminds him of a large
house without adequate funds for maintenance. So people go around
the house shutting off the lights here and there in a desperate attempt to
keep things going.
6. Reluctant support for the amendment--Fortuitous
circumstances have brought the amendment to the voters. He's inclined to
grab his nose firmly and vote yes. If the amendment doesn't pass, it
will cause delusion among its supporters and strengthen the opposition.
Tim Penny's comments--
1. A delicate situation for Penny--Penny said his
consulting firm has a contract with an organization that is working for
the amendment. Also he's co-chair of a southeastern Minnesota
coalition of CEOs that has taken a position of support of the
2. Abdication of legislative leadership--Support for the
amendment is driven largely by the fact that it is the only game in town.
The Governor and Legislature could--and should--have handled the problem
legislatively. It's an indication of abdication of leadership.
He's amazed at how so-called leaders can look at all the evidence--no one
disputes the fact that conditions of our highways are deteriorating and
that the state has dug a hole with its borrowing.
other concern is that the amendment is the ultimate free lunch--finding a
way to seem to accomplish something without more funds, just moving money
around. The amendment is not part of any comprehensive plan.
His personal intent is to vote against the amendment.
Roger Moe's comments--He
said he's "conflicted" between (a) a need for revenues and (b) a general
dislike for constitutional budgeting. He tries to step
back from the overall state budget and identify three purposes, (a)
support of human infrastructure, e.g. education, (b) support of
physical infrastructure, e.g. transportation, and (c) research and
development. He's always felt an investment in human
infrastructure comes first. Passage of the amendment was a quirky
situation as he recalls. The state ought not write a law or
language of an amendment on a whim. He personally thinks the
amendment rewards bad behavior.
Bob DeBoer's comments--A
Citizens League transportation study committee in 2004-2005 took a broad
look at the system. The League concluded that the best mechanism for
changing behavior would be some form of congestion pricing. People
who choose to drive alone should pay the price.
The League suggested new ways of funding, including tolls and capturing
some of the windfall received by property owners near new transit stations
and freeway interchanges. The League didn't address the
question of the amendment directly.
Sean Kershaw's comments--The
pessimist in Kershaw makes him not want to reward bad behavior by
supporting the amendment, because he's not certain that things would have
to get worse before real improvements are made. The optimist in
Kershaw says that a little progress will be made if the amendment is
adopted. If no action occurs, we'll fall farther and farther
back. He said that people who drive should feel
the expense every time they get in the car.
the general discussion among speakers and Caucus members the following
points were made:
1. Recognize good legislative behavior, too--Curt Johnson
said that we could recognize the amendment as rewarding good behavior,
such as that of Rep. Ron Erhardt, a moderate who took charge to get
2. Importance of providing access, not just easing
congestion--Curt Johnson said that the Center for
Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota is looking more
closely at the issue of increasing access of people to transportation as
being more important than easing congestion. In some places
access increases as congestion increases.
3. Importance of a dedicated stream of revenue--If
you look at places making progress on modern transit systems, you won't
find any place succeeding without a dedicated stream of revenue, Curt
4. Continued faith in the Legislature--Moe said the
Legislature isn't perfect; it ebbs and flows. He said that
perhaps residents of the state, and legislators themselves, aren't yet
experiencing a culture change because of high gasoline prices.
Threats to the Minneapolis-St. Paul central corridor--Kershaw
said he had heard that if the amendment is defeated it will delay
construction of light rail along
between Minneapolis and St. Paul, the central corridor. Curt Johnson
agreed that defeat would take the air out of the small momentum that is
out there for that corridor. Immediate effect, too, he said, would be
negative on the rebuilding of the big interchange of I-35W and Hwy.
62 on the Minneapolis-Richfield border.
6. State governing problems--Long said that functioning
of state government is at a low ebb, with lack of cooperation in agreement
7. Hole in the budget?--Long said the amendment's impact
on the budget would be very slight because of a five-year phase-in and
because even today the $300 million that would be shifted represents only
2 percent of the state's budget.
8. Lots of interest in transit--Kershaw said that transit
comes up repeatedly this summer in the conversations that graduate
students are having with people in connection with the MAP 150 project of
the Citizens League.
MAP 150 is an effort to identify key issues for the future of the state as
part of its 150th anniversary in 2008.
9. Too much emphasis on serving the downtowns?--A member
raised the point that at least 85 percent of the region's jobs are located
outside the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where all the transit
emphasis seems to be located. Curt Johnson noted significant
improvements on easing congestion have occurred in suburbs. He cited
progress that was realized when additional lanes were added to I-694
in the northwest suburbs. Transit, Johnson said, is finding a
pattern of dense destinations and providing predictable, reliable, safe
transportation between them, while connecting major cultural centers in
10. Providing access to jobs--Picking up on Curt
Johnson's point about the importance of improving access to
transportation, a member noted one major objective in access is to
guarantee that anyone who lives within, or immediately adjacent, to the
494-694 beltline, and who takes a job within that same area, would be
assured access to that job. That would help people and
employers. It is difficult to see, however, the member
suggested, how fixed rail would help provide that kind of diverse access.
11. Fragmentation in decision-making--A Caucus member
mentioned that the Caucus developed a report three years ago calling for a
new structure for transportation that would cover the entire Twin
Cities commuter area, not just the seven counties, and would encompass
transit and highways, while concentrating authority in one agency, not
spreading that authority among many jurisdictions.
12. Potential role the Caucus might play--Some discussion
occurred over whether the Caucus should submit a report with background
and pros and cons, without recommendations, or whether the Caucus should
take a position on the amendment as well. One suggestion was
that the Caucus needs to convey a sense of urgency on solving the
transportation problem. Penny said the amendment needs to be
placed in a context, by explaining what it will accomplish and what it
Johnson said that the Caucus very soon will be moving to a much more
fundamental question than the amendment--the matter of the polarization
and paralysis in government, which has resulted in such actions as the
13. Earmarking new funds for specific improvements--A
member noted that the amendment provides no guarantees that the new money
will be used for capital or operating purposes or to meet specific needs
that are widely recognized. In response, Long noted that when
a vote was taken in
a map with the specific planned improvements was included a part of the
14. Competition for dollars--Participants noted the
major competition for dollars among state services. Curt
Johnson said health care all by itself could eat up all available funds.
behalf of the Caucus, Verne Johnson thanked the speakers for meeting with
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.