On Wednesday, May 2nd I attended a press conference where Congressman Jason Lewis defended his amendment to the FAA Reauthorization bill that would require the Met Council (as the region’s designated Metropolitan Planning Organization or “MPO”) to have elected officials among its ranks, and a bipartisan group of state legislators laid out their plan for reforms. As one of a few people who were there for non-political reasons, I was in the minority. Throughout the debate there were plenty of partisan bombs thrown from both sides, and lots of motives questioned. The average Minnesotan, had they been in the room, would have been at best bored and at worst annoyed.
My job, as Director of Public Affairs for the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, is to advocate for business interests in the region. Stability of the Met Council is one of those interests. Not from a partisan standpoint – our members sit on all sides of the aisle, sometimes IN the aisle, and sometimes they get as far away from the political process as possible. Our members aren’t interested in the power struggle that members of the legislature, the Governor, and local elected officials get elbow-deep in when it comes to the Met Council. Our members are trying to run their businesses. They’re trying to attract and retain employees. They are trying to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. So extra outside drama that jeopardizes future planning and federal transportation dollars is a concern for them, and thus a concern for me.
The SPACC does a lot of advocacy around transit and transportation, because we know that we must have a comprehensive system that efficiently and effectively moves people and goods around the region. Transit has become essential for businesses to attract new employees and economic development opportunities like the Amazon Headquarters. (Even though the Twin Cities didn’t progress further in that “contest”, we know that other companies that might come here in the future are looking for similar amenities – skilled workforce, affordable housing, transit, cultural and entertainment opportunities, etc.) So anything that would put our area at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to competing for federal dollars or attracting new jobs and business growth is something I pay attention to.
The governance issue aside, we know that the Met Council, which has been acting as the MPO since 1973, is a nationally recognized leader in the work that they do. Delegations from other cities come here to examine the model and leave jealous of what we have. The Met Council was born out of two problems in the 1960’s – sewer issues, and a privately operated transit system that was failing to deliver the kind of service that the region required. And that was back when the metro had half as many residents! Its scale and scope have expanded since then, but their focus – on the region as a whole – has stayed the same. As an organization with members scattered across the metro, that’s exactly what SPACC needs them to do. We need long-term stability that developers look for when investing in new projects. The uncertainty and chaos that the Lewis amendment would create would be an enormous detriment to the economic development of the area in the long term. In my mind, and within my scope of work, this change is unnecessary and ill-informed.
Do you agree? Disagree? Member input is the lifeblood of what I do. Email me with your thoughts. And thanks for reading.