A Recall Lehman 2009 blog appeared on the scene today. Its first post, And so it begins..., came at 12:29 p.m., so if you click to see it, you'll definitely be among the first to do so.
We first heard of it from an anonymous commenter to our post on an entirely different subject. But that's how fast this Internets thing is... Of course, as we should know better than most, anyone can start a blog, so take it, at least for now, with a grain of salt. At this writing, I have no clue who is behind it.
In any case, it has been clear that State Sen. John Lehman will take heat for his opposition to use of a sales tax to fund a Regional Transportation Agency -- something that has been endorsed by city and business leaders. And now Lehman is being credited (or blamed, depending on which side the speaker is on) for the middle-of-the-night compromise he convinced the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to accept at about 2:40 a.m. Thursday night/Friday morning. That compromise separates Racine County from any sales tax-supported RTA and instead imposes a $16 rental car tax on Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee Counties to fund the KRM commuter rail project.
No doubt, it's just a coincidence that former State Sen. George Petak's vote in favor of the odious Miller Park Stadium Tax also came in the middle of the night (5.a.m, on Oct. 6, 1995) after another all-night session... That vote, which led to Petak's recall, weighs heavily on every sales tax proponent. Lehman knows this better than anyone: hell, he sits in what once was Petak's seat.
In any case, as soon as news of the KRM compromise came out Friday morning, the you-know-what hit the fan.
The proposal still has to go through both houses of the Legislature, a not-at-all sure thing even Lehman concedes. At today's Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast he took time from serving sausages to tell me even Senate approval is dicey; there's a two-vote Democratic margin, but at least one of those votes is already opposed. And some Milwaukee legislators think the rental car fee -- which would produce most of its revenue from cars rented at Mitchell Airport -- merely takes money from Milwaukee County to give to us. (Ha! There's a switch!)
Furthermore, even if that opposition is overcome and lawmakers ultimately pass the thing, and the governor is convinced to sign it into law -- another tough battle -- somebody still has to convince the skeptical Feds that a rental car tax is a stable funding source for what is certain to be a very expensive ongoing rail project.
Beyond all that, we have the issue of local BUS service. Mayor Tom Friedel, among others, had hoped a sales-tax-supported RTA would allow Racine to expand bus service farther out into the county --say to I-94 and into other area communities where jobs and/or workers are. At the same time, it would have taken the BUS off the local property tax, but substituting a sales tax. And remember, sales tax proponents always figure that at least some of the revenue comes from non-residents.
Well, a better BUS is a dead issue under Lehman's plan. When asked about that this morning, he suggested that the County should participate in such an expansion. He was serious, but I chuckled, and then so did he: County participation is not likely under a.) Republican County Executive Bill McReynods; b.) Current economic conditions.
At this morning's 1st Congressional District Democrats' annual meeting there was an uncomfortable moment when outgoing Chair Ray Rivera asked whether there were any questions from the floor. The first "question" was more of an article of war. Brent Nance of Racine, 2nd Vice Chair, said to sotto voce agreement, "Lehman's name is not so good in this room."
The only support expressed for Lehman came a little later from fellow JFC member Cory Mason, who said the rental car tax, KRM rather than RTA plan "was a compromise that we really think will work. Getting everyone there was tough," taking more than 10 hours.
Mason said "a lot of people tried to get us to throw in the towel. John Lehman was there all day getting it done. We now have the opportunity to make KRM happen. It will be tough to convince Washington, but we can make a good case. We cleared a really important hurdle and got a funding source for commuter rail."
That remains to be seen. And at what price?