Yesterday the League of Minnesota Cities shared a model resolution with cities that would call on the state of Minnesota to provide money for local streets. This is consistent with the League's new policy to withhold support for transportation funding bills unless they include money for local streets. You don't want to miss the Gravy Train when it leaves the station; it may not be back for a while.
When I first started working for cities as an engineer, the word that I received from the old-timers (the been there, done that crowd for which I have immense respect) was that there used to be a lot of state money for local streets but that it went away a long time ago. If you think we have some perverse incentives now, imagine a scenario where the local cul-de-sac is maintained through a web of statewide gas taxes, license fees and sales taxes. You don't want to be in the caboose on that gravy train.
I laughed my way through the League's proposed resolution. I suspect they are serious, but how does one earnestly ask for an ongoing state handout when resolving that:
WHEREAS, maintenance costs increase as road systems age, and no city--large or small—is spending enough on roadway capital improvements to maintain a 50-year lifecycle;
Yeah, we're all deadbeats. Live with it.
And that attitude is particularly ironic when immediately followed in their proposed resolution by this statement of fact:
WHEREAS, for every one dollar spent on maintenance, a road authority--and therefore taxpayers--save seven dollars in repairs;
So essentially no city is acting responsibly and taking basic, obvious steps to to prudently manage their road and street networks therefore, we are firmly resolved, if the state is going to make it rain transportation money, cities should get some too.
Also, given our obsession here with explaining the difference between a road and a street, the following was illustrative in its confusion:
WHEREAS, city streets are a separate but integral piece of the network of roads supporting movement of people and goods;
Actually....no. Even if you have to drive 5 mph on the first and last blocks of your trip -- the part on the local street -- it has no measurable impact on the movement of people and goods on the roads between our cities. This is utter nonsense.
I'd like to see the League of Minnesota Cities involved in this conversation, but I'd actually like to see them advocate for policies that would make cities stronger, not more fragile. I'd actually like to see them push for their member cities to have more rights and responsibilities to manage their own affairs, not become more dependent on subsidies and handouts (and the lobbyists who help secure them).
Here's a resolution I'd like to see local governments adopt. Feel free to use it in your city.
A RESOLUTION AFFIRMING LOCAL GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBILITY FOR LOCAL STREETS
WHEREAS, Minnesota contains over 141,000 miles of roadway, and over 19,000 miles—or 13 percent--are owned and maintained by Minnesota’s 852 cities; and
WHEREAS, all municipal streets are created with the guidance and approval of local elected and appointed officials; and
WHEREAS, assuming the maintenance liability for a local street is a transaction cities routinely undertake in anticipation of increasing tax revenues and what local officials deem to be a higher standard of living for residents and property owners; and
WHEREAS, local city streets -- those not generally eligible for state transportation funds -- do not serve a statewide or even a regional function but are strictly local in nature; and
WHEREAS, local governments, regardless of the nature of their local economy, are all limited by the state to the same basic tax structure and provided only a narrow range of options to respond to changes in market conditions and nuanced local demands; and
WHEREAS, with a lack of other alternatives, state and federal policies encourage cities to expand horizontally, taking on enormous long term liabilities for street maintenance in the process, as a way to make up for short term gaps in operating revenue; and
WHEREAS, the accumulated liabilities from two generations of policies that encourage horizontal expansion of cities have forced many local governments to defer critical maintenance, take on excessive levels of debt, layoff staff and use questionable assessment procedures to fill revenue gaps when maintaining streets; and
WHEREAS, we believe that local governments are managed by people who are generally competent and conscientious and, where they are not, we understand that voters have the capacity to replace them with people who better represent the interests of the community; and
WHEREAS, local officials accept the burden of responsibly managing the cities they serve and working to promote the general health, safety and welfare of their communities.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY OF __________________ that the City of ______________________________ supports policies that provide local governments more flexibility to customize taxing, spending and investment approaches that better fit the long term needs of their communities while accepting limitations on local government debt as well as increased reporting and transparency necessary to protect the interests of future generations, all in an effort to provide cities the tools they need to maintain local street systems.
ADOPTED by the City of ______________________________ this _____ day of ___________________, 2015.