While various committees had different levels of member participation in bill assembly and editing, the Transportation Finance & Policy Committee had nearly 9 hours of discussion this week focused on the DE2 Amendment to HF 1684 presented by Chair Hornstein.
I offered several amendments to try to highlight some of the most egregious problems in the legislation as presented. The first was the A4 Amendment to remove the gas tax escalator that Chair Hornstein included due to his frustration over the lack of support for a gas tax increase. This language would shift responsibility for assigning revenue increases from the Legislature to the Commissioner of Transportation via an automatic annual adjustment based on the cost of road construction projects. This cannot be considered a 'compromise position' as the Chair insisted as it is actually WORSE than a one-time vote to increase a tax. It is the perpetual abdication of the responsibility to budget that is assigned to legislators. Democrats have never made the connection that the refusal to assign additional funds from gas taxes is due to their lack of responsible budgeting with what has already been given. My amendment would have removed that change in revenue escalation and returned that responsibility back to legislators. You can click the image below to listen to the full discussion of the A4 amendment.
My second amendment was the A11 Amendment that would specify the decommissioning of the Northstar Commuter Rail line. Any attempt to defend continued spending on this boondoggle - not to mention EXPANDING it to St. Cloud - at this point, shows how little Democrats care about how much of your money they will spend to benefit the few - and fewer and fewer. This conversation will definitely be ongoing as the Senate has included a similar provision in their Omnibus Transportation package. Again, click the image below to hear the entire discussion on this amendment.
My last amendment for this bill was in regard to the provision to include the construction of a "land bridge" to reconnect the Rondo Neighborhood of St. Paul. Testimony on this proposal was heard several weeks ago about how the construction of Interstate 94 through downtown had decimated a once highly prosperous, mostly black commercial and residential area by condemning a huge portion of generational businesses and dividing the neighborhoods in half. It was actually a very stark depiction of how destructive the power of government can be.
No matter how many 'rebuilding' projects we funded, or bridges put in place after the fact, the truth is that we can NEVER restore what was taken away from those families, from that community and from the experience of the St. Paul and, even greater, Minnesota history. But we can try to make sure it can't happen again.
What was missing from this proposal was language that would restrict the use of Eminent Domain in these type of transportation & transit projects to only those that would be supported by the representative government assigned the responsibility of being a voice for the people. Administrative bureaucracy is not elected and is not beholden to the voters in that way. I presented the A12 Amendment as a method that would leave the Eminent Domain process intact but would provide an upper threshold for how much the tool could be used by transportation and transit planners on a single project before they would need to receive approval from legislators to continue. The immediate push-back from those agencies in attendance despite how few situations they presented where it would be a factor shows exactly how ingrained this process is in the thinking of the bureaucracy. For them, it is purely property acquisition without any thought of the livelihoods and histories that are destroyed in the process. If we don't assign some sort of boundaries, this situation could and WILL happen again to some other community.
Click the image below to hear the committee discuss the amendment.
My amendments may not have passed, but we had important discussions about the direction that this work needs to go. Chair Hornstein provides a forum for much more discussion than many of the other committees assembling omnibus bills - by contrast, the Commerce Committee had one day of bill language presentation from staff and 10 minutes of 'mark-up' when one attempted amendment from the committee was immediately shot down and no further discussion was even broached.
And rest assured, I will be offering these amendments again on the House floor when these bills are brought to the entire body for approval.