FFM Bulletin 9/29/11

All not aboard for Rochester “Zip Rail” 

Olmsted County taxpayers are now on the hook for a $15 million “high speed rail” bonding request and could be on the line for much, much more in the near future.

County officials voted Tuesday to approve a $2 million state grant agreement and submit a $15 million bonding request in the state’s 2012 bonding bill for their proposed high-speed rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities. According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, funding would go toward “pre-design, design and environmental studies for the ‘Zip Rail’ project.”

But that’s just the first step.  The total cost of these studies is set at $75-$90 million. And that’s just for starters.

The actual line could cost as much as $1.5-$2 billion.

Yet, the bonding request faces another challenge: finding a local legislator to sponsor the bill.  Capital Investment Committee chair Sen. Dave Senjem (R-Rochester) and other area legislators have raised several questions regarding the funding and operation of the line.

Like the Northern Lights Express (NLX) project that would run a train from the metro to Duluth, proponents of the Rochester rail line are finding it difficult to push this project given the current political and economic climate.  Though NLX has backing from Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and former Congressman Jim Oberstar, current Rep. Chip Cravaack has said the project is not an immediate priority.

"The project has to pay for itself. I don't want to take money and put it into a Northern Lights Project when we can't drive on our roads,” Cravaack said. “We have a finite amount of money, we have to make sure that the right money goes to the right projects for the right reasons."

But Olmsted County Commissioner Ken Brown remains hopeful for the Rochester-MSP connection, saying he considers Zip Rail “the future.”

If we’ve learned anything from the past from the various rail lines that have popped up around the state and country, we’ve learned that taxpayers are the ones that usually get taken for the ride.  Hopefully citizens in Olmsted County can bring the latest “future boondoggle” to a halt.

City report shows highly touted Monticello muni fiber-optic network facing financial challenges

When a local government broadband proposal runs into controversy almost anywhere in Minnesota, proponents inevitably point skeptics to what’s become their go-to success story:  FiberNet Monticello.
So it came as a big surprise recently to learn that the poster child for muni broadband- Monticello FiberNet- isn’t living up to expectations. And, to make matters worse, local taxpayers are once again subsidizing a service they may not ever use.

Read more from our latest in our series of Accountability Alerts.

Referendum Watch: Edina Public Schools' $45 million tech levy

On November 8th Edina residents will be asked to vote on a new technology levy more than four times the amount of the current one. The proposed levy would collect $4.5 million annually for the next 10 years, a significant increase over the current levy set at $1 million annually.
“The money from the levy will go toward a combination of supporting staff, software and hardware and networking,” Superintendent Ric Dressen told aPatch reporter.

Yet new software and supporting staff does not come without a price. The levy increase would bring the per pupil amount to $549, a 350 percent increase from the previous levy. The average home in Edina would see a net tax increase of roughly $174 per year, depending on housing values.

With more than a third of school districts in the state planning to ask residents for more money this fall, taxpayers from across the state will be seeking information about levy proposals and accountability from their school districts.  Be sure to contact us at:info@freedomfoundationofminnesota.com if you have questions or comments about your local government elections.

LightSquared controversy in Washington plays out under the radar in Minnesota – MN State News

Do you follow MN State News? You should, and here’s why- You won’t read this story in any other Minnesota media outlet:

The high profile Washington battle over alleged crony capitalism and White House pressure on behalf of LightSquared communications network has been playing out quietly on the state level for weeks with Minnesota legislators and trade groups being asked to take sides.

While the project has become a lightning rod for controversy in recent days in Washington, lobbyists in Minnesota and several other states have been touting the system’s benefits, particularly to rural residents.

Read more from Minnesota State News on the controversy receiving national attention and how local Minnesotans may be impacted.

Freedom Foundation of Minnesota internships available

The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota is looking for part-time interns this fall and winter to assist with research and communications projects. Interns will work with FFM's government transparency and accountability initiative, monitor cases of government waste and abuse, and help maintain the FFM website. We can also work with applicants who are interested in earning college credit for the internship. Interested applicants should send a resume to FFM Development Director Christina Pajak or call 612-354-2160.


Stay In the Loop

Stay Up To Date

Sign up today for our
e-update to find out what is
going on in your state and
local government.

FFM Tipline

We will do our best to uncover the wasteful spending you report.