Southwest will be well represented on transportation issues this session, with District 60 legislators chairing key transit subcommittees in both chambers.
Sen. Scott Dibble is chair of a newly formed Senate subcommittee on transit finance, and Rep. Frank Hornstein is in charge of its sister subcommittee in the House.
But don't expect preferential treatment for projects that might benefit this corner of the city.
“I don't believe in legislative preemption of the planning process,” Dibble said.
He said it's important to be dedicated to building regionwide consensus on transit and said he has strong working alliances with east metro legislators.
“As we bring more rail facilities online, we need to balance east metro and west metro needs. I'm not going to bump west metro plans up in the queue,” Dibble said.
The Southwest legislators will have an opportunity to help set the agenda on several key issues. How to spend dollars from the state's transportation amendment, for example, and whether to establish another funding source, like a metro area sales tax.
“We want to look at long-term financing of transit in particular,” Hornstein said. “Nothing is off the table. We will consider (the sales tax) among other things.”
Hornstein and Dibble both said they sense broad, bipartisan support across the metro area for investing in mass transit. Accelerating construction of Metro Transit's prioritized corridors will be a major issue for the committees.
“We need to get out of the box that we only put one project through every 15 years,” Dibble said. “I don't want to be a little old gray man by the time we see a vigorous regional transit system here.”
“I think it'll be important to really spend some time in the subcommittee understanding what we need in the metropolitan area,” Dibble said.
With a million new residents expected in the state in the next 15 years, Dibble said the Legislature will need to double what is spends on roads and transit just to keep pace with existing congestion levels.
He said it's no longer a matter of whether the state can afford to invest in transportation. Without a strong regional system for transit, congestion is going to choke the economy by reducing efficiency.
“We're way behind the public on this subject,” Dibble said. “We need to act.”
Dibble and Hornstein expect to work together on several issues. They jointly delivered a certificate of appreciation to Metro Transit last week for environmental efforts by the transit agency. They praised the introduction of diesel-electric hybrid buses and the use of soy-blend fuels.
Other committee chairs
Several other Southwest legislators will also take leadership roles on a variety of committees when the Minnesota Legislature convenes in January.
In addition to Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-60A) serving as House speaker and Hornstein's leadership role on the transportation subcommittee, every legislator representing Southwest will chair a committee. Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-62B) will chair the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, and Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-61A) will chair the Housing Policy and Finance and Public Health Finance Committee. Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-63A) will chair the Health Care and Human Services Committee, which will work closely with the Mental Health Division Committee chaired by Rep. Neva Walker (DFL-61B).
In the Senate, Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-61) will chair the Health and Human Services Budget Division.