Frankly, at this point, it doesn't make much sense. Doyle wants a unified RTA for Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee counties, but he'll start with something called a "sub-RTA" and try to induce Racine and Kenosha to join with some sort of matching funds. (Milwaukee will pay for its RTA with a 0.5 percent sales tax, a proposal Democrats say is off the table for Racine.)
But there's a couple of problems with Doyle's plan. First, Milwaukee County gets what it wanted all along - a sales tax to pay for its ailing bus system. What more do they need? County Board Chairman Lee Holloway said as much in the J-S.
That was a key point for Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway, who has said bus transit faces dire funding needs that take priority over commuter rail.In other words, Milwaukee County doesn't need Racine and could really care less if KRM commuter rail is built.
Here's another problem: How will Racine pay for its "sub-RTA"? Presumably the money would go toward paying for the Belle Urban System, which could reduce property taxes in the city. But where would the money come from? A wheel tax? (That idea has sat out there for awhile - and would have to come from Racine Mayor John Dickert). A rental car tax? (And how many cars are rented in Racine?) Some other mysterious source of money? (If so, it'll have to pass a referendum, according to Doyle's guidelines.)
The state's carrot here appears to be a deal to provide matching funds for Racine and Kenosha if they create sub-RTAs. That may work something like this: Racine creates a wheel tax and collects $X millions per year. The state agrees to match $X million dollar-for-dollar. In that scenario, Racine doubles its money for property tax relief by taking buses off the tax roll - and using state money to pay for half. Not a bad deal ... but where would the state money come from?
Doyle suggested a rental car tax - or the state's transportation fund. The latter, which is funded with the state's gas tax, is an interesting possibility. Would a state that's spending $2 billion on road construction in the next two years really shift money for road construction to public transit?
Realistically, this could be it for KRM. There's no money right now for anything, and any sort of extra tax will face a helluva challenge from just about everyone. Plus, everyone seems focused on transit at the moment, which seems to leave little room for commuter rail.
Here's the info we have to go on:
Doyle's statement today
Doyle's "Basic RTA Structural Guidelines"
The J-S story
State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the Milwaukee County sales tax:
After months of inner-party strife over how to keep KRM commuter rail afloat, Governor Doyle introduced a plan today to increase the sales tax in Milwaukee County and break apart the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority into smaller pieces to avoid continual battles between factions throughout the three-county region. Rep. Vos (R-Caledonia) says neither the tax hike nor the new structure would be necessary if Democrats would simply focus on transit priorities.
“The Milwaukee bus system is in peril and it needs to be fixed,” said Vos. “But the fight over how to fund it stems from stretching the money too thin for projects like KRM that aren’t financially viable.”
Vos, a staunch advocate for referenda in the case of sales tax increases, says this new hike will be placed on families at a time when they can least afford it. Doyle says the increase has been approved by the voters. Vos disagrees, saying a new referendum should be required because of the current economy and because the previous question was substantially different - stipulating some of the revenue be directed toward park funding and emergency medical services.
“When the families of Milwaukee face record unemployment and have been beaten down by the effects of the current recession, we should not be taxing them more,” explained Vos. “Rather than spending $50 million on new trains, Governor Doyle should have placed a higher priority on Milwaukee transit to avoid this new tax.”
Vos says it’s unfortunate that Doyle is more interested in figuring out how to pay for a new commuter rail system that will probably cost much more than projected, require higher tax subsidies down the road, and likely won’t serve the transit needs of the majority of the region.
“It’s typical government at work,” said Vos. “Ignore the broken program, expand another piece of the program, and then raise taxes to fix the broken part when it gets to a near-emergency situation.”
Vos continued: “Now is not the time to expand our transit system, we need to work to fix what’s broken with existing dollars and greater efficiencies. The tax increases will continue to get bigger as the projects get bigger.”