The Minnesota Capitol Dome | Steve Timmer photograph
by Steve Timmer
Nov 28, 2014, 2:00 PM

Mourning opportunities lost IV

This series is turning into a regular thing. Even I’m getting tired of the graphic.

There was a commentary in the Strib this morning (Friday, November 28th) about another failure that should be attributed to the DFL-controlled Legislature in 2013-14: stable and adequate transportation funding. It’s a commentary by Adam Platt, the executive editor of Twin Cities Business magazine. He sums up the situation this way:

In the 2014 session, despite progress on divisive issues like minimum wage, a long-term funding mechanism for roads and transit was held back. Insiders say that the governor did not want to burden himself or his party with a tax increase as voters went to the polls.

No one I’ve talked to at the Capitol since the election believes comprehensive transportation funding that includes transit is anything but the remotest of long shots under divided government. We like to tell ourselves in Minnesota that we do it better, but we have not, for decades, and when the unique opportunity presented itself over the last two years, the DFL passed.

We know that the DFL lost the House anyway, and Governor Dayton beat a candidate who was outpolled by Michelle MacDonald (46% vs. 44%), so it isn’t clear to me how a tax increase would mattered much. Except to the improved transportation environment of the state, of course.

Platt quotes a $12 billion (with a B) funding gap just to maintain existing roads and bridges. The numbers get astronomically larger when needed improvements are factored in.

My favorite Cassandra figure on this mess is my Minnesota House Rep., Ron Erhardt (I’ve mentioned Ron before, haven’t I?), who has been trying to spread the gospel about the transportation funding problem for a long time.

I remember, in fact, a legislative town hall meeting several years ago at Edina City Hall. This was back when Ron was a Republican, and the Deputy (that’s long enough ago now that I probably should mention that the Deputy is my nickname for Geoff Michel) was our state senator. Ron was there talking about, inter alia, his favorite subject, the transportation funding gap. I have no recollection of what the Deputy said.

But I do remember that the 3rd District U.S. House Rep. at the time, Jim Ramstad, made a cameo at the end of the session and praised the Deputy for his work on transportation. Only my overriding sense of propriety kept me from laughing out loud. The Deputy was one of Tim Pawlenty’s most faithful and enduring vassals, opposed to, among other things, a gas tax increase all the way.

I did pull Ramstad aside after the event was over, pointed to Ron, and told the congressman that he was perhaps confused; he mumbled something inaudible. It remains as one of the most clueless performances by a congressman in my memory.

But now, rural Minnesota, the Minnesota Action Network’s sick joke is on you.

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