Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed the entire Milwaukee Transit Authority, including its .65% sales tax for local buses and emergency services, when he signed the two-year, $62 billion state budget into law this morning. (A portion of the redacted budget is at left; highlighted portions are what Doyle took out.)
At the same time, he allowed the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority to move forward -- even though he's opposed to the $18 rental car fee created by the Legislature to fund KRM commuter rail, and bus service in Kenosha and Racine Counties. The rental fee should be a sufficiently sustainable funding source to satisfy the requirements of the Federal Transit Administration to go ahead with KRM's preliminary engineering work, but Doyle has rejected using a portion of it for local bus service.
The governor's at first confusing moves make it clear that he wants Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee Counties, along with the Legislature, to take another swing at this project, and create a single, truly regional, transit authority for buses and commuter rail, not two separate ones. Although he hasn't killed the KRM commuter rail effort, the parts he's left standing, and those he totally eliminated from the budget bill, will require a new effort, since the Feds demand both.
Listing the many sections of the measure that he vetoed (see page 46 of the .pdf), the governor said he is vetoing them
"because they do not provide a framework for regional cooperation on providing transit services. These provisions do not move in the direction of regional cooperation and leave serious concerns about the ability of the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail link to move to completion. By vetoing these provisions, I am allowing the creation of a transit authority that can move forward with the planning process on the rail link while eliminating provisions that hamper regional cooperation. I encourage the Legislature to bring forward a proposal with a stable revenue source dedicated solely to transit across the region in order to move regional transit forward."Kerry Thomas, executive director of Transit NOW, was in the Capitol as Doyle made his remarks and signed the budget. Her first reaction was, "WHOA! Didn't expect that! A lot of people were looking around, scratching their heads, wondering where we go from here."
Upon reflection, she said, it's clear "the governor really has a strong vision of what will work long-term. Yes, it's hard work, but that's how governors think."
She said "there's an opportunity over the next two months for us and the Legislature to go back and work on this, bring back some regional solutions in the fall. We have to put the three buses (Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee) and regional commuter rail in one package. "
Doyle said he is opposed to the rental car fee, but
"I cannot veto it because the transit authority must have a local funding source to move forward with the federal application process. However, I strongly recommend to the board of the transit authority not to implement the entire amount of the fee until New Start plans are approved by the Federal Transit Administration."Doyle had proposed a sales tax of up to .5% for Kenosha County, the east-of-the I portion of Racine County and Milwaukee County to be used as the local match for the $1 from the car rental fee (about $500,000 a year) dedicated to supporting local bus service. Legislators, still mindful of the popular uprising that removed State Sen. George Petak from office a decade ago when he provided the final vote for a .1% sales tax for Miller Stadium, are reluctant to trod that path
To provide the matching funds, some have suggested creating a "wheel tax" -- in part because it can be imposed by local government without need for the Legislature's approval. With approximately 50,000 vehicles registered in Racine, that would translate to a $10 increase in every car and truck and motorcycle's annual registration fee. Any other communities that wanted a station on the KRM line would also have to contribute funds to support local buses. Racine Mayor John Dickert came out strongly opposed to such a tax last week, because it would put a "disproportionate burden" on Racine's taxpayers.
Transit NOW director Thomas said today's action by the governor "is more than we expected. But it's early. I think we can still come up with something. The good news is that we have so many transit champions in the Legislature. The governor is just saying we can do this better."
The application for KRM is due in September, she said, "but there is some flexibility. We do have to act pretty quickly, strongly, to keep the FTA looking at the application. We need to sit down in the region -- local leaders, legislators -- and figure out how we're going to make a plan to get it through the Legislature in the fall. It's putting us under the gun, but it's a good vision."
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said he remains optimistic. "This puts us in a position to apply for the preliminary engineering to get KRM moving." But he acknowledged that "all the communities have some work to do in terms of getting their buses in a place where they also have sustainable sources of funding."
It's back to the drawing board for KRM ... or is it?
Gov. Doyle signed the state budget at 11 this morning, but his veto message indicates that he made substantive changes to the regional transit portion affecting commuter rail here.
What exactly those changes really mean is still unclear. But here's what we found near the top of the governor's veto messsage (before the huge .pdf download itself derailed).
I recognize that the Legislature's proposal for a Milwaukee Transit Authority and a Southeastern Regional Transit Authority is an attempt to move forward on this issue, and while I could have signed these provisions, I believe they would move us in the wrong direction. We must commit from the very beginning to a vision of real regional transit. New revenues must be focused on regional transit, not immediate local transit funding needs. Transit planning and operations must reach across county boundaries in southeastern Wisconsin.What the governor appears to be saying is that the two RTAs created by the Legislature's conference committee budget -- one to fund Milwaukee County's bus system with a .5% sales tax (and a .15% sales tax for police and emergency services) and the other to fund the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail proposal with an $18 car rental fee is not regional; Milwaukee was not in the SERTA and creating two RTAs does not make the solution regional. Or not. In killing the Milwaukee Transit Authority, Doyle also kills that .65% sales tax.
My vetoes remove the Milwaukee Transit Authority but retain the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority and the $18 vehicle rental fee. This will at least allow important engineering studies for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee rapid rail system to move to the next step in the federal New Starts process. However, I strongly urge the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority to avoid full implementation of the new vehicle rental fee. I also respectfully request the Legislature to build on the positive steps it took in this budget on regional transit. Further efforts and legislation are needed as soon as possible to continue to make progress toward a truly regional transit system in support of economic growth.
But at the same time, he appears to have left the key KRM provisions alone.
The governor earlier had favored a sales tax for KRM, rather than the rental car tax, which has bounced from $16 to $18; and while he appears to have left the rental fee in the budget -- Racine County legislators, unlike Milwaukee County's, being totally unwilling to commit George Petak hara-kiri by voting for a sales tax -- he is urging SERTA "to avoid full implementation" of the rental fee -- whatever that means. You either have a fee, or you don't -- right?
We're sure this is a developing story. More when we are able to sort it out further. The Journal Sentinel has its first story on the budget signing HERE. WisPolitics.com has its summary HERE.