PEOPLE-Local 645

  • Quality of Life Alliance

Signs of Transit Desperation Starting To Show

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on February 3, 2011

From Milwaukee County First:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that the Milwaukee County Board will consider asking the state to use the car rental tax that wasoriginally meant for the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and divert it to help stabilize the Milwaukee County Transit System.  The driving force behind this is Milwaukee County Executive Lee Holloway, who is following up on a statement he made in his State of the Countyaddress last week.

Holloway correctly points out that the RTA is all but dead, at least for now.  Thesiderodromophobic Scott Walker would never allow the rail system to be built and would only take that money to balance the holes in the current as well as any future budgets.

However, before anyone gets their dander up, this proposal probably won’t make it past the County Board, much less the state legislature or the governor’s office.  While most of the Supervisors recognize that the immediate need for financial aid to the transit system, the best option is still the dedicate 0.5% sales tax.  It is unlikely that there would be enough Supervisors willing to risk their political futures on what is going to be a wildly unpopular bill that is almost guaranteed to fail at the state level.

Another reason that supervisors are not likely to vote for Holloway’s proposal is that it simply would not bring in enough money to make a substantial impact on what is needed to shore up the failing transit system:

At $18, a rental car tax would raise up to $7.2 million a year from the RTA’s three-county region, Holloway wrote in a memo to supervisors. Although no breakdown is available of how much would be raised from each county, Holloway and RTA Chairman Karl Ostby agree most of the revenue would come from Milwaukee County, particularly from travelers renting cars at Mitchell International Airport.

Ostby said the rental car tax “wouldn’t really solve the Milwaukee County bus system’s funding needs.

They would need a lot more than that.” By contrast, a 0.5% sales tax would raise $60 million a year, some of which would be used to replace property tax support.

What this proposal does do, however, is serve to highlight the increasingly desperate state of the county’s transit system.  For the past decade, the transit system has had routes cut and services scaled back by more than 20%.  This translates to tens of thousands of workers being separated from jobs.  In addition, the demand for transit options is only going to grow as gas prices continue to escalate unabated.

With the economy struggling in its slow recovery, a healthy transit system would allow workers a greater chance of finding work and being able to keep the jobs when they do find work.  Furthermore, without this much needed aid, the transit system would collapse even further, and the number of workers unable to get to the jobs would grow exponentially.

The dedicated sales tax would have the added benefit of reducing the property tax of Milwaukee County home owners.  This, of course, would allow a greater number of people to keep their homes or even buy new ones.

Scott Walker ran and won with the promise that he would create the opportunity for 250,000 jobs.  By allowing the dedicated sales tax to happen, this would help him a long way in keeping that promise.

Also see our press release on this issue, which we issued last week.


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