Knock us over with a feather.
In the Morris Sun Tribune story, Backer, McNamar tackle issues at forum, a newspaper actually did a bit of fact checking of claims made in a candidate debate. The results aren't pretty for Representative Jeff Backer:
A Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities official said in a political forum in Morris it was mainly a disappointing year in the Legislature in 2015-2016 in large part because no bonding bill or transportation bill or tax bill were passed.
During a Coalition-sponsored forum in Morris Oct. 20 between Minnesota House District 12A Rep. Jeff Backer and challenger Jay McNamar placed the blame for the disappointment at different feet.
Backer said Gov. Dayton prevented a tax bill that had bipartisan support from passing into legislation. Dayton cared more about the light rail in the Twin Cities area than a tax bill that would benefit rural Minnesota including District 12A, Becker said.
"The governor vetoed it. He put a train ahead of greater Minnesota," Backer said.
Not so, McNamar said. The Republican controlled House submitted a tax bill with a $100 million error, McNamar said.
Dayton did veto the tax bill because of a $100 million error, McNamar said. "He didn't do it because of a train (light rail)," McNamar said.
"I was there, he didn't do veto it because of a mistake," Backer said. "He vetoed it because of a train."
In published media reports from June, including WCCO and the StarTribune, Dayton said he'd veto the tax bill because of the $101 million error. Dayton used what is commonly referred to as a pocket veto in which he took no action to pass what was called a bipartisan tax bill.
Backer no expert on transit
One thing the paper didn't fact check? This placebaiting claim by Representative Backer:
Backer said light rail is expensive, under used, not practical and takes needed money away from roads, bridges and other transportation needs.
McNamar said he'd support the Twin Cities Metro area raising fees or taxes in that area to fund light rail. Ultimately construction of light rail in the Twin Cities area eases some of the use of roads and bridges. "Light rail cuts down on the traffic construction. It helps prevent the construction of new lanes," McNamar said. If less money is spent on new roads and fixing roads in the Twin Cities area more money will be available to fix roads and bridges in rural Minnesota, McNamar said.
Backer said he wouldn't support allowing the Twin Cities Metro Area to increase its taxes for light rail. Buses are a much better option, he said.
Where do we begin? Perhaps best to start with a sentence in Pioneer Press reporter David Montgmoery's story, Mark Dayton’s transportation proposals hit roadblocks: "Minnesota’s gas tax revenue is constitutionally dedicated to funding roads and bridges."
Next, Backer repeats the canard that light rail is "underused." We've seen this one before from rural Republican legislators. Take our post, Below expectations? Luverne's Sen. Bill Weber seems confused about light rail ridership figures, wherein we reported:
In Weber addresses critics with added comments, a letter to the editors of the Worthington Daily Globe, the honorable Republican state senator from Luverne hopes to clear up what he perceives are misrepresentations in this letter and this one of his "comments to the governor during his recent visit to Worthington."
We'll have to take Weber's word for what he was trying to communicate to the governor, but there's at least one part of the letter that didn't ring true to us. Weber writes:
I urged the governor to call for careful evaluation of existing light rail operations. They are not meeting original projections of ridership, etc.If people do not use it, we do not solve problems of traffic congestion.
That seemed peculiar. Hadn't we read otherwise? Apparently so. In a January 22, 2016 press release, Metro Transit ridership tops 85.8 million in 2015, there's this:
The METRO Blue Line set a new annual ridership record and system ridership increased for the 11th time in 12 years as customers took more than 85.8 million rides on buses and trains operated by Metro Transit in 2015. . . .
Ridership on both the Blue and Green light-rail lines continued to grow as customers used the all-day, frequent service to travel to work, school, special events and other destinations. The ability to transfer between light-rail lines in downtown Minneapolis also boosted ridership.
In all, more than 10.6 million rides were taken on the Blue Line, the highest annual ridership since it opened in mid-2004. The previous record of nearly 10.5 million rides was set in 2010. Average weekday ridership topped 30,000 for eight consecutive months.
Nearly 12.4 million rides were taken on the Green Line during its first full year of operation. Average weekday ridership was 37,400 – just under the 2030 forecast of 41,000 rides. Ridership in the Central Corridor, including the Green Line and bus routes 16 and 94, increased by about 30 percent from 2014 to 2015 and has nearly doubled since 2013, when service was provided by buses alone.
Oh. The Green Line's ridership trajectory appears to be following a similar path to that of the Blue Line, formerly known as the Hiawatha Line. In 2009, Minnesota Public Radio's Dan Olson reported in Hiawatha light rail marks five years; what's next?:
Today marks five years of operation for the Hiawatha line, Minnesota's first light rail service.
Ridership is much greater than projected, and that success has helped spark a debate over how te expand transit in the Twin Cities metro area, and how to pay for it. . . .
Five years and 43 million passenger rides later, the Hiawatha line is coping with success.
Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons says ridership for the line, which connects downtown Minneapolis with the Mall of America, is already 20 percent ahead of what ridership was expected to be 11 years from now. . . .
Not long afterward, we noted in Luverne's Senator Bill Weber seems confused about light rail ridership figures, part two:
Now another source confirms the central facts about ridership on the Green Line. In In final act, Central Corridor Funders Collaborative looks at what went right (and wrong) with Green Line development, MinnPost's Peter Callaghan reports:
After two years of operations, the region’s second light rail line is exceeding expectations.
Average daily ridership on the Green Line is 37,402, well on its way to the 41,000 daily trips forecast for the year 2030. Investment along the line, which connects downtown St. Paul with downtown Minneapolis, has totaled $4.2 billion, according to Metro Transit estimates. And market-rate housing projects have sprouted all along the route, even as 3,600 units of affordable housing have been created or preserved.
As such, praising the $1 billion Green Line is a sure-fire applause line for politicians in both the east and west metro.
But southwestern Minnesota, a state senator seems certain that voters won't care about facts, but will applaud the place-baiting.
Backer is playing the same game. Don't like statistics and facts? Perhaps rural residents can look at photos of light rail ridership; we've posted one photo snapped on a Sunday afternoon and posted to Facebook the next day by trainwatcher James Oliver Smith Jr.. Smith writes:
.. People Riding Light Rail In The Twin Cities ... Sunday, October 23, 2016 1:23 PM ... Metro Transit Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue Station ... Minneapolis, Minnesota ... An eastbound Green Line train headed for the Union Depot Station in Lowertown, St Paul approaches the platform ... The lead car of this three-car train is a Siemens S70 Light Rail Vehicle (LRv) ... LRV #254 ... You can pretty much pick any day of the week, or any time of the day, and there will be people on light rail in the Twin Cities ... This photo was taken on a beautiful October Sunday afternoon ... Regardless of what the opposition to rail transit thinks, people are using light rail in large numbers that are exceeding projections and expectations ... Light rail is servicing twice the riders that the bus routes serviced in the same corridors before ... Rail transit of any kind (streetcars, light rail, commuter rail, heavy rail subway) always attracts people, and people attract business and business attracts development ... It always works that way ... We, as a species, are mobile and have places to go, people to see and things to do ... Light rail has brought the Twin Cities into a new, modern, state-of-the-art dimension that helps people go about their daily lives efficiently, comfortably and effectively .
As for buses being a "better" option, perhaps Backer might take a look at MinnPost's 2012 article, When it comes to public subsidies, Twin Cities light rail seems a bargain, and the Pioneer Press's 2015 article (updated in 2016), again by data maven David Montgomery, Mass transit is more than light rail – and still costly.
Illustrating Backer's anti-urban bias
Maybe it's not transit costs that are the problem here. Maybe the problem is Representative Backer's anti-urban bias. Maybe Backer doesn't understand the scale any any issue of large cities--nor the notion that preventing one area from thriving by taxing itself doesn't create instant prosperity in the other.
A loss for the metro doesn't magically translate into gain for rural Minnesota. But Backer has long been fond of strange rural versus urban thinking.
As we wrote back in April in Why it's a good thing Jeff Backer is part of the April 26 Appleton Prison town hall in North Mpls:
One of the rural Republicans who is part of the town hall is former Browns Valley Mayor and current Minnesota House District 12A state representative Jeff Backer. Minnesota's western boundary waters, from whence both the Minnesota River and the Red River of the North spring, forms his district's western edge. The District Demographics contrast with those in Minneapolis.
Why do we believe it's a good thing for the country mouse to visit the big city and listen to Dehn's constituents?
The answer is rooted in statements Backer made while Mayor of Browns Valley in 2007, when the city was struck by a flood in those headwaters in the spring and heavy rain in early June. Shane Mercer of the Grand Forks Herald reported in Browns Valley recovering:
BROWNS VALLEY, Minn. - Residents of this western Minnesota town were reminded over the weekend of the brutal flooding that buried a large chunk of the community in March.
Heavy rains forced water over a road on the west side of Browns Valley on Saturday. The waters receded, but were back across the road on Monday.
Mayor Jeff Backer said Monday afternoon he was not aware of any damage to homes, and the areas hardest hit by flooding in March were not affected.
It's not as if residents needed the reminder. Some things are hard to forget. When ice jams forced the Little Minnesota River from its banks and into neighborhoods in March, more than 60 homes in the town of about 650 sustained severe or moderate damage. Backer estimated flood damage to the city at $4 million to $5 million. . . .
That would be less than ten percent of the town's housing stock. We continued:
Mayor Backer compared his town's misery to that of New Orleans, which had been hit by Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005. Mercer reports:
"In my opinion New Orleans would not be in the position that they are in if they had the same people that we have here in Browns Valley," he said, alluding to post-Katrina issues in the Crescent City. "The mentality of the people (in Browns Valley) is, 'What can we do to help?' " ...
Later that fall, Backer reached for the contrast again, this time in talking to the Associated Press via Minnesota Public Radio's Browns Valley residents still picking up pieces from spring flood:
As an example of how property values can affect flood relief, Browns Valley Mayor Jeff Backer Jr. said 62 homes were touched by the flood, and 17 were severely damaged. The value of the those homes in this small town in far western Minnesota ranged from $20,000 to $35,000. The city is buying out seven of them. . . .
Backer, whose basement was flooded, said the percentage of houses in his town affected by flooding was equal to those damaged in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina. . . .
While Backer rightly felt great pain for Browns Valley, his math was a bit off. While 60 homes out of 650 in Browns Valley (just under 10%) were damaged, CNN notes in its 2015 Hurricane Katrina Statistics Fast Facts:
80% of the city flooded after levees failed. . . .
70% of New Orleans' occupied housing, 134,000 units, was damaged in the storm.
That's a far, far greater percentage of the housing in New Orleans than the housing in Browns Valley that was destroyed by the cities' respective natural disasters. It's likely more explanatory of why the City of New Orleans lost so much of its population shortly after what FEMA called "the single most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history" than not having "the same people that we have here in Browns Valley."
Backer's anti-urban placebaiting probably isn't a sound foundation for policy making, anymore than his memory or math skills.
Screengrabs: The upside-down photo in the Sun Tribune's original online version of the forum article seems like a pretty good visual metaphor (top); a photo of people waiting for a train earlier this month, via James Oliver Smith Jr.'s Facebook page.
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