ST. PAUL – Legislators Thursday urged Gov. Mark Dayton to rein in the Met Council, an unelected panel with an annual $1 billion budget they say is overreaching its originally intended purpose.
The legislators indicate the council’s Thrive MSP 2040 housing and transportation plan has galvanized elected officials across the metro. Formed in the 1960s, the Met Council is a governor-appointed board which legislators, city and county officials as well as citizens contend has strayed beyond its intent in planning regional infrastructure – transportation, wastewater, parks and space, and aviation – for the seven-county metro area.
Suburban officials have been outspoken opponents of the Thrive plan, but say their concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Thrive provisions, they say, will increase highway congestion and drive up housing costs by mandating stacked residences and eliminating funds for priorities like roadwork.
“Cities need to have control over their local planning,” said Waconia Mayor Jim Nash. “I see the council picking winners and losers among cities and imposing its priorities, using funding or the denial of funding to get compliance.”
“The Met Council’s diversion of taxpayer money away from roads and bridges and toward fixed-rail projects does not support the priorities of Minnesotans statewide,” said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover. “It all comes down to priorities. Democrats want to raise our taxes so they can spend more, but reports show you could fully replace all 1,203 structurally deficient bridges in Minnesota with the money they are wasting on the Southwest Corridor light rail line.”
The problem for suburban cities and counties is they seem to have little recourse regarding Met Council’s mandates. For example, when Lake Elmo stood up to the Met Council to gain control of its own plans for growth, the Met Council sued the city and won; the council, which has the authority to levy taxes and collect them, subsequently eased off its requirements of Lake Elmo after the real-estate market crashed.
“After 50 years of mission creep, the Met Council’s Thrive 2040 plan is a full-blown power grab, planning to re-engineer our seven-county metro area with its imposition of urban-centric priorities on the greater Twin Cities area,” said Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines. “It’s clear this unelected, unaccountable board is not responsible to any authority but its own. The 2015 legislature must take action to rein it in.”
Republican legislators have offered numerous bills in past sessions designed to pare the Council’s reach. Those proposals, many of which had bipartisan support, have not received public hearings in the House.
“We will renew our efforts in the 2015 session to reform the governance of this body, and we call upon Gov. Dayton to announce his intentions and set it back on a narrower path,” Scott said.
Legislators indicated several proposals being considered, but foremost among them will be rejecting the Thrive plan and placing a moratorium on light rail projects.
“There need to be some wholesale changes in governance and accountability to the cities, counties and citizens,” said Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound. “One way we can achieve that is by providing county and city officials the authority to confirm or not confirm