House lawmakers have given the green light to legislation that would make big changes to the powerful Metropolitan Council.
Passed 71-52, as amended to include the House language, Tuesday, HF3273/SF2809* would restructure the Twin Cities regional planning body. It would replace political appointees with local elected officials on the council and make sweeping changes to how the organization fulfills its role as the region’s chief transit planner and operator.
The Senate, which passed its version 36-27 May 7, did not agree with House changes and has requested a conference committee work out the differences.
Sponsored by Rep. Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake) Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake), the bill is the latest in a years-long push by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to overhaul the agency. Since its creation in the late-1960s, the Met Council has overseen land use, transit, and wastewater planning for the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area of more than 3 million people.
It operates Metro Transit, distributes billions in federal dollars, and — at its core — brings a regional perspective to long-term planning across the bustling metro.
But state legislators and local officials have often complained that the council is not responsive, nor accountable, to local governments and their constituents.
Under Albright’s proposal, the council’s membership would expand from 17 to 29 members and include members appointed by the seven counties, by municipalities in each Metropolitan Council District, and by the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The bill would also introduce staggered terms for members; currently, council members serve concurrently with the governor that tapped them for the role.
Albright said his bill “gives an opportunity for locally-elected community leaders to have a voice in how monies dedicated to their areas are going to be spent.”
The bill would also eliminate the Transportation Advisory Board — the body made up of elected officials that advises the council on how to spend federal transportation funds — folding its responsibilities into a new-look Metropolitan Council.
DFLers expressed support for Met Council reform, but said Albright’s bill is the wrong approach.
Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls) has advocated for the direct election of Met Council members, saying that would “ensure much more accountability than this proposal.”
Other opponents have contended that having local elected officials serving a dual role as part of a regional planning organization presents unavoidable conflicts of interest that would undermine the metro-wide mission of the Metropolitan Council.
“Parochialism is a real concern,” said Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan), warning that local and regional interests will get confused.
Officials in Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration have said he does not support the legislation.