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Column: Ensure taxpayer protections if Zip Rail moves forward

Viewpoint

Over the years, a large number of Goodhue County residents have been outraged over discussion of a passenger rail line, including Zip Rail, being constructed from Rochester to the Twin Cities.

This is not a surprise. Passenger rail is the definition of a Christmas wish list want and has never been, and never will be, a need. No one in Goodhue County would benefit from it, yet farmers would be expected — nay, demanded — to give up their land at bargain rates in exchange for the greater good. And of course the greater good in this instance is the city of Rochester, the Mayo Clinic and corporate interests.

This is why I am once again offering legislation that will protect the taxpayers if some organization decides to go full-speed ahead with a potential Zip Rail project.

The bill first states that public funding will not be used to fund any passenger rail line designed between Rochester and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

That means any local government or affiliated governmental agency — cities, counties, Destination Medical Center, Met Council, etc. — would be banned from using taxpayer dollars in any fashion to help construct or promote such a rail line.

Second, any private organization that wants to construct passenger rail in this corridor would be prohibited from using Minnesota's eminent domain law to take land from a private citizen. As in any property sale, a company would have to negotiate a price with a landowner in order to make the acquisition. And if the landowner isn't in the mood to sell, so be it.

The bill also includes a provision requiring an instrument of financial assurance from the company if — or in my opinion, when — a passenger rail project fails to come to fruition or ceases to operate. It forces the company to pay to restore the land to its original state, keeping taxpayers and landowners off the hook.

Finally, if all of the above conditions are met and the line is built and running, the legislation would prohibit any public funding for operating costs.

In other words, taxpayers would never be held financially responsible if the number of riders or the cost of maintenance does not meet the projections of the rail company.

It's true, all of these provisions may seem like common sense. But as a state lawmaker, I've found that if specifics aren't listed in legislation, attorneys and other legislators begin to make their own interpretations. No one wants that.

That's why I'm eager to remove all guesswork from any potential Rochester-Twin Cities passenger rail line and protect taxpayers from an insane expenditure that has not worked out anywhere in the world.

Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, can be reached at 651-296-2273 or rep.steve.drazkowski@house.mn.