Taxation without Representation Again? Meet the Metropolitan Council

Special for Senate District 49     *     October 15, 2015

The Metropolitan Council is a 17 member regional super-government appointed by the governor and accountable to no one else.  The Council has full taxing authority and a new mandate to change housing, transportation and the environment; in short, how you and I live our lives every single day.  The prospect of an unelected board of apparatchiks micro-managing how we live is a chilling consequence of the radical expanse of governmental authority.

The Council was founded in the mid-1960s as part of a then-popular move toward “regional planning.”  In essence the Council was sold on its promise to make sure that intra-county resources like roads and utilities are developed in a cooperative and efficient manner.   As originally conceived, the Council’s charter to encourage efficiency by minimizing duplication among counties made a great deal of sense.  After all, it made no sense if Scott County installed a system of waste-water pipes that failed to connect with the waste-water treatment facility maintained by Hennepin County.  Over the past half century, however, the Council has gobbled up more and more power, gradually expanding its scope and size.  In the process, the Council has gained full taxing authority and has dramatically expanded to the point that, under Governor Dayton, these 17 unknown bureaucrats have virtual plenary power over every single person living within the seven county metropolitan area.

At the end of 2014, the Council adopted its most audacious power grab ever, adopting the innocuous sounding “Thrive MSP 2040.” This plan, reminiscent of the great centralized plans so popular in the former Soviet Union, will dramatically reshape how every person in the metro area lives and gets around.   Like other grand governmental programs, the Thrive plan is full of vague and lofty sounding goals.  In reality, however, the Thrive plan imposes a host of new ideologically-motivated criteria for municipal control; control that will be the exclusive domain of the central governmental authority unchecked by elected representatives and unaccountable to the taxpayers of the region.

The Thrive plan will transform our lives through two primary big-government mechanisms.  First, the plan promotes high-density housing, arranged in what the Council refers to as “transit-oriented development” (TOD).  TOD seeks to move everyone into dense urban cores, clustered around public transit.  The Council furthers this goal by approaching transportation ideas with animosity to automobile transit and encouragement of public transit.  The result of this hostility is planned highway gridlock, a process of intentionally increasing commute times by increasing highway choke points.  The Thrive plan does not, of course, refer to this as “planned highway gridlock.” Instead, the plan uses a much more innocuous sounding “development patterns that support high transit demand" designed to "improve residents' ability to live without a personal vehicle." 

If you have ever raged at other cars as the Crosstown highway transitions from four lanes down to two as you pass through Edina, this is “development patterns that support high transit demand” and is all part of the plan to “improve” your ability to live without a car.  The thinly veiled, but over-arching, road construction goal is for you to get so frustrated with traffic congestion that you take a bus or the light rail.  Better yet, you will get so fed up with manufactured traffic congestion that you move out of Edina or Bloomington and into the urban core where you can live in the Council’s preferred high-density sustainable urban developments. If you do not think that this is the best use of the taxpayers’ scarce tax resources, note that the Council has a plan to allocate nearly $3 billion new dollars on light rail transit while studiously avoiding any increased funding for automobile based transit needs. 

This brings us to the second portion of the Council’s Thrive plan, the plan to advance a government-mandated “equality” by forcing us all into a pre-established, government approved, “equal” residential distribution based on race and ethnicity.  You need to understand that Edina and Bloomington represent everything that the centralized urban planners hate; economic achievement, non-dense development (i.e. large suburban lots), individual independence and self-selected income distribution.  The Thrive plan strives to stamp out all of this independent thought, instead seeking to decide for us where and how we should live.  The Thrive plan will achieve this utopia by herding us all into densely packed urban centers where we will all gladly rely on fixed rail transit and buses. 

Despite its massive, unaccountable, power, the Council, at present, lacks any authority to force us to comply with its plans for socio-economic integration. The Council makes up for this by strong-arming local municipalities to accept the centralized plans by controlling the purse strings for vast amounts of taxpayer funds.  The Thrive plan specifically ties municipal access to road and other Council-controlled funds to municipal compliance with Thrive goals surrounding housing, zoning and socio-economic “equality.”  If your local municipality quietly and obediently gets in line with the goals of the central power, your municipality will get its goodies.  While many local municipalities have simply “rolled over” and ceded their power to the Council, the county boards of the five exurban counties, Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott and Washington, have unanimously denounced the Council's plan. Perhaps this is because the outlying counties understand that they are being forced to pay for their own demise. 

The Metropolitan Council represents a dangerous consolidation of an amazing amount of what properly is legislative power into the hands of the executive branch.   Like many executive branch agencies, the Metropolitan Council conducts its business in secret, free of the pesky oversight of the people that it serves.  Taxation without representation is alive and well in Minnesota.