Sometime soon, officials at the Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit are going to have some explaining to do. They should be called before various committees of the Minnesota Legislature to explain why they were "business partners" at a recent rally at the Capitol featuring speakers who advocate civil disobedience against Metro Transit's two primary source of income — the government and fossil fuels.
I write as a strong advocate for the terrific bus service we've enjoyed for decades in the Twin Cities. As a former chair of the Metropolitan Council's Transportation Committee, I spent the last eight years strategically guiding the proposed expansion of the "workhorse" of our transit system, our local bus service. During my last year on the council, Metro Transit provided nearly 91 million trips throughout our seven-county region. These bus and rail riders realize the necessity of a strong mass transit system and support it every day by riding to and from work.
When I learned that Metro Transit provided free rides to the State Capitol for protestors who oppose the use of fossil fuels — you know, the kind we use to fuel our buses — I was stunned.
On a recent Saturday, a couple of hundred supporters of MN350, a group of left-leaning, environmental activists, gathered in St. Paul to rally against all sorts of "extremism," including ideas propounded by those crafty radicals at the Chamber of Commerce.
MN350 appears to be a local link to a group of extremists who believe that several Fortune 500 groups are "radicals ... willing to alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere in order to get money" and who have been staging protests like the one here where they seek to be arrested. They want to be hauled to jail because they believe that climate change "is already a matter of life and death." A common theme of the "350.org" protests was to "move beyond fossil fuels" and some groups even featured piñatas shaped like buses that were bashed by young children who, I'm guessing, were likely more interested in the candy inside the vessel than in the propaganda on the outside.
It appears that the primary focus of the event was to gin up opposition to a proposed oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, that is currently seeking approval from the U.S. State Department. Proponents of the pipeline say that it will increase America's energy security and that add thousands of new jobs here in the Midwest over the next four years. (In case you're wondering, I'm on the side of greater energy security and more jobs.)
While I disagree with these activists, I support their right to petition government. I just don't want state government to be their business partner. Frankly, I don't want state government partnering with any protest group, whether they are anti-tax protesters next April or our prolife friends come January.
What is curious about this "partnership," however, is why Metro Transit, the folks whose very jobs rely on consuming vast amounts of fossil fuels, would want to get involved with an organization that would put them out of business. Siding with groups that seek to eliminate your jobs shouldn't be on your "to do" list.
Last year Metro Transit, along with all of state government, stared down a significant government budget shortfall. Met Council officials fought long and hard to keep intact their $120 million state government general fund appropriation. While transit service remains relatively intact, I can imagine the day is coming when members of the Legislature will ask questions about how our transit system can afford to give away free rides to protestors while threatening regular riders with reduced service and higher fares nearly every year.
Decisions like this partnership raise some important questions that deserve thoughtful answers from Met Council officials.
Annette Meeks is CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, which describes itself as "an independent, non-profit educational and research organization that actively advocates the principles of individual freedom, personal responsibility, economic freedom, and limited government." A former member and chairman of the Metropolitan Council Transportation Committee, she was a candidate for lieutenant governor as Tom Emmer's running mate last year.