Column: It’s time to sidetrack light rail train projectsHow do you define want versus need? To me, a need is something you absolutely have to have, obvious things like food, shelter, and clothing.
By: Steve Drazkowski, Mazeppa, The Republican Eagle
How do you define want versus need?
To me, a need is something you absolutely have to have, obvious things like food, shelter, and clothing.
In state government, we have many other needs that must be funded.
Things like public education, public safety, and transportation.
And when dealing with transportation, it is my opinion that when we spend our resources to improve Minnesota’s transportation system, we do so for infrastructure that is most widely utilized because it will ultimately help the most Minnesotans.
We need to repair and replace roads and bridges when they begin to show wear and become unsafe. Everyone can certainly agree to that.
But in state government, it’s always interesting to see how transportation ideas that start off as “nice-to-haves” quickly become “needs,” regardless if money is available to make the project happen.
The best example is President Obama’s plan to spend $8 billion to create high speed rail across the United States. A good chunk of that Obama money was supposed to come through Minnesota as part of a high speed line connecting Chicago to Minneapolis.
One problem, the state taking up a good chunk of the line - Wisconsin - told the president to forget it. New Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said his state didn’t want to waste resources on the project and decided to give the money back.
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s Department of Transportation still wants to spend taxpayer resources to “study” the workability of the plan, continuing with this strategy because they (the government) know it’s the “right thing to do.”
I don’t know about you, but unless those trains can take flight somewhere near Rockford, Ill., and come back to earth at Winona, I don’t see why you would need to study the issue if Wisconsin is not going to participate.
I tip my hat to Walker. He recognizes a boondoggle when he sees it - and so should Minnesota since it’s already funded a pair of its own.
The Hiawatha Rail line, which runs from the Mall of America to Target Field, currently has a 62 percent tax subsidy rate. Even worse is the Northstar Commuter Rail, which operates from Big Lake to Minneapolis.
This carries a mind blowing 80 percent tax subsidy rate. This means that even if you don’t ride either train, you’re still paying half to more than 80 percent of the cost for someone who is.
And this only considers the annual operating costs and maintenance to each line — it does not factor in the 100 percent public subsidy to develop the lines.
Meanwhile, there are plans in the works to fund five additional light rail projects in the Metro Area, including the all-but-delivered Central Corridor line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul — at a cost of $957 million.
Where did our common sense go? The United States is $14 trillion in debt, yet our president wants to take on another $8 billion liability on a choo-choo pipe dream. Minnesota faces a $6.2 billion budget deficit over the next two years, and the appetite for spending on light rail continues to increase despite the fact that we don’t have the money to pay for the last two lines we couldn’t live without.
If more high speed rail is needed, then why is current ridership so pathetic, and why does it need to be so heavily subsidized?
There comes a time when responsible government needs to be found, and that time is now.
It is my hope our transportation committees provides the necessary oversight to these out-of-control train projects and takes us in a different direction - a direction that truly prioritizes our transportation needs.
There’s no doubt we need more road and bridge improvement projects, but that money will never materialize if we continue to sidetrack funds from people paying gas and motor vehicle sales taxes to subsidize trains most Minnesotans will never ride.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, can be reached at 651-296-2273 or firstname.lastname@example.org