Our View: Zip Rail debate shouldn't knock DMC off track
Rep. Steve Drazkowski's effort to tie flexibility for Destination Medical Center funding with the quest to stop talk of a Zip Rail is akin to not allowing people to buy apples because they don't like oranges. The Mazeppa Republican's measure tries to combine two efforts through the thinnest of relationships.
Zip Rail's links to DMC efforts are mere theory at this point. The proposed high-speed rail connection between Rochester and the Twin Cities is merely a glimmer in planners' eyes, while the need to ensure DMC funding flexibility is immediate so the Rochester City Council can fund its share of public contributions without needing to consider a property tax increase.
Drazkowski's bill, which was submitted Monday and sent to the House Transportation Policy and Finance committee for consideration, authorizes flexibility for local DMC spending, but only if the city and county agree not to fund any future Zip Rail efforts. As a result, it combines two pieces of legislation already under consideration. Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, has a bill to adjust DMC legislation, which was reviewed by the Greater Minnesota Economic and Workforce Development Policy committee Tuesday, and Farmington Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo pitched a bill to block any Zip Rail funding at the start of the session. It also is awaiting a hearing in the House Transportation Policy and Finance committee.
Since Drazkowski already signed onto Garofalo's bill, Monday's measure is a second attempt with the same goal. Unfortunately, it muddles the effort by making it a purely political effort, aiming to pit one effort against another without judging each by its own merits.
While Olmsted County is continuing its work to advance the project, including seeking $7.5 million in planning money from the state, Zip Rail already faces an uphill battle. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has said he likes the concept but also noted getting state funding is going to be "hard, absent some evidence that some very deep pocket — the federal government or some private developer — is ready and able to go ahead with the project itself."
Trying to tie the county's hands simply seems to be going too far. The county, as well as the city, should be allowed to maintain control over the funding it receives, especially because much of it comes from local taxes. Draskowski's bill is an effort to control how local government can spend its funds in the future, and it fails to take into account the possibility of a public-private partnership that could provide high-speed rail service with minimal taxpayer expense.
Since he doesn't believe private funding will happen, the representative wants to guarantee it can't happen.
We understand the concern about not knowing how the project will unfold. There are many concerns that cause legitimate worry for residents caught in the path of a potential rail system.
What we don't understand is putting regional economic development at risk while trying to alleviate those concerns. It's a political maneuver that doesn't need to be made and could end up crashing legitimate efforts along the way.
Hopefully, calmer heads will prevail in St. Paul, and Norton's bill will be given consideration over one that forces Rochester and Olmsted County officials to make choices about the future before it even begins to unfold.
Then, as that future takes shape, the state can seriously discuss the merits and concerns regarding Zip Rail and decide whether it has a future.