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Walker Offers a Bandaid for the Buses

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on May 10, 2010

From Milwaukee County First:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that Scott Walker is promising to put additional funding into the Milwaukee County Transit System.

While I think almost everyone can agree that this is good news overall, it is not reason to celebrate yet.  There are still several questions that need to be answered and problems that need to be fixed.

One of these issues is exactly where is this money going to come from.  The article is less than forthcoming on that:

It’s also possible that the county will decide to use $36.6 million in long-idle federal transit aid to buy buses, rather than for Walker’s proposed bus rapid transit line, Walker and Dranzik said.

Furthermore, new buses need less maintenance, saving $10,000 to $12,000 a year for each bus, and they’re more fuel-efficient, reducing energy costs, Walker said.

In addition to the money being spent on buses and fare boxes, Walker said he plans to increase property tax support for the transit system’s operating expenses by $3 million in the 2011 county budget.

Milwaukee County First has been pointing out for a very long time that it would be folly to have a rapid transit bus route going to the county grounds when it is even questionable if a school will ever be built there.  Even if it is eventually built, it will be years before this service would be needed there.

The other question is where he plans to get the extra $3 million from.  We all know that Walker is not about to propose a tax levy while he running for governor on an anti-tax platform.  This means that he will short another area that $3 million.  But from where?

Obviously, cutting from BHD is a bad idea, considering all the problems it is facing due to his previous cuts.  It is also doubtful that he would cut from the Sheriff’s Office since he received bad press from his cuts to that department as well.  He can’t cut from the Income Maintenance Program due to the State take over of that program.  The Parks are already in trouble and cannot afford to lose any more funding lest they start shutting down parts of it.

I shudder at wondering what Walker might decide is expendable, when there is really nothing more he can cut without causing irreparable harm.

Another major issue is the fact that the money he uses, whether it is some special boon from the federal government, the money that he slotted for the rapid transit route, or the money he takes at the sacrifice from another part of Milwaukee County, it is only a temporary bandage on a major problem.

This will help stem the damage for one more year, but without a dedicated funding source, it is only prolonging the inevitable.  It is sad that only now, when he is running for a higher office and the state government failed to bail him out as it has done so many times in previous years, that Walker shows any kind of commitment to the transit system.

Remember that in his tenure as County Executive, Walker has cut transit by some 20%, keeping tens of thousands of people from jobs and reducing ridership to an all time low.  In fact, the problem continues as that I have just learned that the ridership for MCTS has dropped another 9% in the first quarter of 2010 as compared to the first quarter of 2009.

These continuing drops stem directly from Walker ignoring all the advice of agencies like the Public Policy Forum,  instead raising rates and cutting services.

It is sad that Walker failed to step up for Milwaukee County when he had the chance to show some real leadership and helped to try to get the state legislature see the need for a dedicated sales tax and to honor the wishes of the people who had voted for this a year and a half ago.

It is also worth noting that Walker, who had actively resisted taking stimulus dollars, is now hypocritically singing the praises of the new buses that the County bought with the very same stimulus money he didn’t want.  (I wonder where the Tea Party people are on that one.)

As for fixing the transit system that he has endeavored in ruining, I think we can file this attempt from Walker as “Too Little, Too Late.”

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