Obama Seeks $300B for Infrastructure, Minnesotans Express Concerns

Updated: 02/27/2014 7:45 AM
Created: 02/26/2014 8:07 PM
By: Stephen Tellier

While speaking in St. Paul, President Barack Obama made bold demands for billions of dollars to revitalize America's infrastructure. But both sides of the aisle had some big problems with what he said -- and what he didn't say.

"It's so important for the president to lead on this kind of an issue because it is a national priority and a national crisis," said El Tinklenberg, a former commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

He knows how important it is to secure money for Minnesota's transit systems -- that used to be his job. But even he said the president is missing at least part of the point.

"There's very little discussion about, how do we fund the system we need for the future?" Tinklenberg said.

In contrast, Annette Meeks, with the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, is more focused on the present.

"I would look at, how we can fix our critical infrastructure that we have right now that isn't working so well?" Tinklenberg said.

Recent federally backed infrastructure projects in Minnesota include the Union Depot renovation, which got $35 million from the federal government, and the Target Field light rail station, which received $10 million in federal money.

The $1 billion Southwest Light Rail project also looms -- which will potentially include a big chunk of change from the federal government.

"Everybody likes to look at, as the president called them, spiffy new trains. The problem is, most people in the state are never going to ride those spiffy new trains," Meeks said.

She scoffed at the promise of $302 billion for infrastructure.

"You just look at that and think, 'This is not really based on reality. This is based on what we would like to see happen,'" Meeks said.

Meeks also worries the proposal is only half paid for -- by tax reform. And that is where her concerns overlap with those of the former transportation commissioner.

"I continue to be a little disappointed that we're not being more honest with the fact that this costs money. It costs a lot of money. And there's no magic way to pay for it without us paying for it," Tinklenberg said.

The other big benefit that $302 billion would bring is thousands of new jobs. That would certainly boost the economy. But skeptics fear that's just a short-term bonus which would fizzle out once the work is complete.

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