May 11, 2009

KRM proponents unwilling to settle for half a loaf

When it comes to regional transit, is half a loaf better than none?

That's the dilemma KRM and BUS advocates discussed this afternoon. Transit NOW and a panoply of local officials -- both Mayor Tom Friedel and Mayor-elect John Dickert were present -- examined their options in the wake of last week's decision by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to fund Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail with a $16 fee on rental cars --
while providing nothing to aid the city's Belle Urban System bus.

Kerry Thomas, executive director of Transit NOW, laid out the dilemma in a few words. "We're lucky to have something to build on... but what we have is probably not workable in the state it's in."

The good news is that the KRM measure produced by the JFC near 3 a.m. doesn't require any opt-in: no public referenda or local government decisions to participate. On the other hand, "the funding source could compromise the project" for two reasons: the feds have rejected it in the past, and there are questions about whether it will produce enough revenue.

Chip Brewer quoting from a Wisconsin State Journal editorial, noted, "nothing good happens after midnight." Brewer, SC Johnson director of worldwide governmental relations, sat through the marathon JFC session alongside Thomas and said, "KRM still has a pulse; it's still breathing, but it needs some work." Referring to local legislators' unwillingness to impose a sales tax to fund both KRM and regional bus systems, he said: "If in fact a sales tax is not sellable in Kenosha and Racine Counties, we need to reassure ourselves that the rental car fee is sustainable." The lawmakers did allow a sales tax for regional transit -- buses and rail -- in Milwaukee County.

Mayor-elect John Dickert and Jim Eastman of Merchants Moving

"There's cause for optimism and for concern. Nobody wanted to get up from the table, as wobbly as it was," he said. Brewer maintains that the rental car tax will produce about $5 million a year, enough to fund all the capital and operating costs needed for KRM ... and that federal authorities who once rejected such funding will approve it now that Milwaukee's bus system has been separated from commuter rail, and will be supported by its own county sales tax.

That's not a position universally held. Ryan Gleason of Community for Change, said, "I don't think a rental car fee will work. The airline industry is not known for its stability, and the first thing companies cut is travel." Some 75% of the funds expected from the three-county rental car fee would be generated by rentals at Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport.

Curtis Garner, executive director of Racine's BUS, built on the afternoon's good news/bad news theme. He is "heartened that we have something; disappointed that funds for the BUS were excluded." He noted that BUS funding has been something of a "shell game going on the past few years," as federal funding goes up a fraction of a percent, while state funding goes down a similar amount. Even with a 1% annual increase in city funding, "costs are rapidly exceeding funding." The BUS provides 1.5 million rides a year, but service cuts and fare increases are "inevitable" by 2011. "I know for sure I'm going to have to make service cuts," he said.

Garner also made the case for something more than just additional buses. The city needs sidewalks, curb cuts, bus shelters, "an entire transit infrastructure," he said, to make itself "pedestrian-friendly."

"If we're going to get a sales tax, we've got to be sure it's an amount that will allow us to build a real transit system in Racine."
Mayor Tom Friedel makes a point for Dustin Block

Hence, the group's dilemma: "We've got to not lose what was passed," Thomas said pointedly. "All the opportunities for us are also opportunities for critics to take out what we've gotten," as the measure passes through both houses of the legislature.

Transit NOW decided to form a steering committee to "shore up" relationships with local and state legislators, and try to convince them of public support -- 67% in favor, Dickert estimated -- while realizing there's not much time. Suggestions of holding referenda, or doing polling were well received -- except that they could not be accomplished in the timeline that remains: the state budget is due to be voted on in June, and the federal application for KRM funding must be filed by September.


  1. Dear Legislators: there's a very simple way to determine once and for all the level of taxpayer support: REFERENDUM

  2. Amazing that referendums were well received. Also amazing that there's no time to do one! They've had HOW many years to get'r'done? SMOKE AND MIRRORS AGAIN> Knock it off folks!!!!!!

  3. "The good news is that the KRM measure produced by the JFC near 3 a.m. doesn't require any opt-in: no public referenda"

    What is wrong with a public vote? Oh and why was at least one member of the public told they could NOT attend three days after asking to do so?

    This fight is far from over. Think if I may Lawyers, Guns, and Money

  4. 67% support....where in the world do they get that number? Did they do a scientific poll that we haven't seen?

  5. Where did they get that 67%? "Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!" Again, that trick never works. "This time for sure, PRESTO! HMMM, time to get another hat!!"

  6. A referendum would pass.

  7. 12:32 then lets find out.

  8. The article reads that it is good news that a referendum was not needed. Why am I surprised? They are going to convince legislature they have public support. Who? Dickert and his relatives? A few people rode a trolley. This should be interesting. You have no real viable plan for this train. You don't even have a solid plan to get the money. 5 million would be generated in rental car fees? When pigs fly!

  9. ...and try to convince them of public support...

    Why can't the public show their own support - because there is so little.

    What relation is there between a train and a car rental fee? Rather than a car rental fee, how 'bout a tax on each employee, paid for by the employer, and based on how far away they live from Racine's center city. It makes about as much sense.

  10. I trust John and Cory to get this done. They wouldn't have agreed to this if they didn't believe it would work. I just don't see them doing that to everyone here.

  11. Public support is overwhelming for KRM.

  12. How about all the businesses who are in favour of this, reach in their checkbooks, form a corporation, and build the train themselves. no subsidies...just make it or break it..Just like every other business. Make the fare profitable for the train, if it fails it fails.

  13. @Urban Pioneer
    That kind of defeats the point of public transit. It's called public transit because it's funded by the publicIf you want private transit, hire a taxi. Trains, buses, and planes aren't profitable without taxpayer support. Never have been, never will be.

  14. ah 5:02 Trains, buses, and planes were all making money until the GOVERNMENT took them over. You might want to try reading the history of the Railroad and Airlines.
    Then too that's something else Transit Now does want us to know.

  15. "...Never have been, never will be."
    Seems like somewhat of a close-minded attitude.

  16. $5,000,000 per year / $15 additional tax per car = 333,333 cars rented per year. That's 913 car rentals every day of the year. Anyone know if this is realistic? Seems high to me, but I have any details.

  17. Sorry, I don't have any details.

  18. No loaf at all sounds the best to me! If this happens, it will be the most expensive "loaf" we have ever seen.