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Sullivan Picks Vital Topic As Campaign Theme

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on February 6, 2011

Jim Sullivan, candidate for Milwaukee County Executive, has picked a vital theme for one of the main planks of his campaign – the failing transit system:

Today, Jim Sullivan announced a plan to save our transit system and lower Milwaukee County residents property taxes.

Sullivan will enact the referendum passed by Milwaukee County voters in 2008 and create a dedicated funding source for Milwaukee County Transit System. Dedicated transit funding will allow the county to invest in public transportation and will save property taxpayers thousands of dollars by taking transit off the property tax rolls.

“Milwaukee County is in dire need of a renewed, vibrant transit system and property tax relief. This plan will provide both,” candidate for Milwaukee County Executive Jim Sullivan said. “A revitalized transit system is an investment in our community that will attract business and create jobs across our County. I call on all of my opponents to join me in standing up for real solutions to restore our disappearing transit system.”

Sullivan for Milwaukee released a petition today, “Save Our Transit,” calling for the dedicated funding source that Milwaukee County voters supported in the 2008 referendum.

Jim Sullivan is a common sense leader fighting for working Milwaukee County residents to create jobs, revitalize Milwaukee County services and infrastructure and to ease the tax burden on working families.

The online petition takes only seconds to sign.

I had an opportunity to chat with Sullivan a few weeks ago, and he told me that this was one of his top concerns.  He called the transit system the “lifeblood” of Milwaukee County.  He accurately pointed out that without a healthy transit system, any efforts to restore the regional economy would be greatly hampered, if not impossible.  Sullivan further stated that with a healthy transit system, other things, such as economic development and increased revenue for things like the parks and maintenance of county buildings would become available.

Sullivan also said that one of the main reasons that the transit sales tax failed in the state legislature for the past two years is because Milwaukee County officials were presenting mixed messages to the legislators.  While the County Board actively pursued a viable remedy to the ailing transit system in the form of a dedicated sales tax, former County Executive Scott Walker was more concerned with his political image and how such a sales tax might affect his gubernatorial campaign.  Sullivan said he would work with the County Board to present a unified front and a consistent message in an effort to put pressure on state legislators to do the right thing and honor the people’s will.

Sullivan strongly emphasized that his plan would adhere to the original intent of the referendum and not only provide a dedicated funding source for the transit system, but would also give home owners a much needed break by taking the transit system off of the tax levee.

To further exemplify his support for transit, he told me that he had taken the bus to the first debate, which was held downtown.

The only other candidate that has advocated for fixing the transit system is the beleaguered County Board Chairman, Lee Holloway.  However, even Holloway has shown a wavering support for the sales tax.

Ieshuh Griffin has stated opposition to the sales tax, but has not proffered any other solution that I am aware of.

Jeff Stone has also expressed opposition to the sales tax, and like Griffin, doesn’t offer any alternative solutions.  Given that Stone has nothing but praise for the way that Walker mismanaged the county, I would not look to him to have a vision, much less a plan.  He is much more likely to let the transit system, as well as our regional economy, go to hell in a hand basket, just to preserve Walker’s false image of being a leader if nothing else.

Chris Abele has also expressed opposition to the dedicated sales tax.  I had the opportunity to chat with Abele as well, and had asked him the question of how to fix transit.  His simplistic answer was to simply reconfigure the routes and times of service to increase their efficiency by having them “go from where the people are to where the jobs are and have them go when they’re most needed.”  I didn’t even bother to point out that Milwaukee County has transit riders from all over the region, not just inside the county, that utilizes the transit system to get to all different points of the county.  His stated solution would be the equivalent of picking winners and losers as far as workers as well as businesses.  If you happen to live in an unfavored part of town, or have your business in an area that is deemed not to be of sufficient value, under Abele’s plan, you would be out of luck.

Another concern is that Abele has also touted a plan to save tax payers $2 million in taxes in short order, but never goes into specifics on how he would do that.  However, Abele is also on the board for the Greater Milwaukee Committee, which commissioned the Public Policy Forum to conduct a very specific study regarding county finances and the results of various privatization plans.  In this study, one of the possible scenarios outlined (Scenario 3, for those following along at home) would correspond to about $2 million is projected savings.  This option would include spinning off the transit system, as well as the airport, the zoo and the parks, into special districts/ separate taxing authorities with their own.  Given Abele’s first TV commercial, in which he is touting these studies that he and the GMC commissioned, there is no reason to believe that this report won’t be among his plans for Milwaukee County.

I don’t see the need or the appropriateness of having four more unelected taxing authorities to oversee any of these functions.  The problem is not the management of any of the systems, but simply the lack of funding.  By allowing these programs to go under the auspices of independent bodies, it not only takes any say away from the tax payers, but greatly increases the risk of having their taxes skyrocket.

In summary, we have five candidates with different plans when it comes to the Milwaukee County Transit System:

  • Ieshuh Griffin opposes a dedicated funding, but offers no other solutions
  • Jeff Stone not only opposes the sales tax, but is more than willing to help the transit system, and the economy with it, to the breaking point
  • Lee Holloway is taking the spaghetti approach, flinging everything out there in hopes that something will stick
  • Chris Abele would spin off the transit into an unelected taxing authority, with the only option to be to raise property taxes to the detriment of home owners and no guarantee of better service.
  • Jim Sullivan would join with the County Board to put pressure on the state legislature and the governor to finally provide a dedicated sales tax as voters called for more than two years ago, which would not only restore the transit system but give tax payers a much needed break.
Obviously, the best choice would be Sullivan’s, which would provide ample funding to get the transit system, and subsequently the local economy, back to healthier times as well as give a break to home owner’s across Milwaukee County.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget to sign the petition for a better transit system and a better, job creating economy.



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