September 8, 2009

Where's the money? Doyle's RTA plan ignores Racine's big question

Gov. Jim Doyle's latest attempt to craft a regional transit authority for southeastern Wisconsin was released today.

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.”


  1. Try the tax hike any tax hike for KRM see what happens. Even Dicket not that dumb

  2. This is a mess. Democrats are failing.

  3. 8:36 - no the Democrat's are just being themselves - failures

  4. Why not speak the truth?

    In the horrible budget Doyle along with Lehman and Mason on joint finance pulled a political stunt to take power away from Scott Walker.

    That backfired when Lee Holloway got angry about his sales tax increase.

    Now Doyle is making worse the mess he created...

    Ah, being a Democrat means never having to admit your own failures.

  5. The only reason there is not a funding plan for a RTA is because Lehman was scared to vote for a sales tax increase.

  6. Did Vos' district get bigger or something? Why is this clown telling Milwaukee what to do when they had a referendum?

    All this guy knows how to do is tell everyone else why they are stupid all while he offers nothing in exchange. I could hire a 6 year old to do what he does.

  7. In the Kenosha News today Doyle tells our reporter that the pool of operating costs for KRM will come from the previously proposed car rental fees until a better plan is devised;
    " An 18% car rental fee would remain in place and continue to fund the local operational costs of KRM at least for a few years, said a Doyle spokesperson. But the umbrella authority would ultimately govern how to use the fee and the Milwaukee sales tax."

    In my estimation this says something quite different than what Vos thinks it says. He has not killed this mass transit thing yet! I believe the Governor and the legislature are really trying to bend over backwards to make this thing work! It is once again, the Republican side of the isle trying to destroy progress in the name of a buck. Funny how they like their roads though.

    It seems quite perplexing that something so obviously pro business would be something they were against? To relieve us of a portion of property taxes too....

    The feds say they will wait for our application. Doyle told me personally that he thought the application would go in later this month. Meanwhile we continue to get our ducks in a row for the rail beds.

    My take on this would be a state wide funding source for all mass transit. A pool of funding where no one source is overwhelmingly hit too hard.

    If we ever hope to be attractive come Olympics time, a train would be nice. Those foreigners tend to drive on the other side of the road.

  8. Anon 10:58... YOu might have missed it, the R in KRM stands for Racine.

    Vos' Assembly District includes the same.

    Your hatred apparently clouds basic cognative function.

  9. If you think there will be ANY decrease in property tax as a result of this you are delusional.

  10. Just like healthcare, it is time for the elected officials to put a nail in this coffin and start over when the economy has recovered. No elected official wants to be the one to actually kill this thing but no one wants to really move it forward either. The games played by Lehman and Doyle have been predicted for months. It is a tricky little game called "say you are for it but never vote to fund it."

    It is the same game played in Washington. They passed the budget framework a few months ago to great media fanfare but in reality most of the new Federal budget programs at this point are not yet funded.

    In the case of healthcare, KRM and many other State and Federal proposals there are ideas and proposals but no funding. The funding comes either by sneaking it in another more popular bill or bulldozing a bill through the process. When there is no money left at any level of government everyone needs to step back and wait until the economy recovers. Now is not the time to keep spending money that doesn't exist or is borrowed from China.

  11. Thinking that a law suit or two filed will really gum up the works.
    KRM is dead dead dead as is any nut would would back raising taxes or starting new ones

  12. Great News - now our highly trained unemployeed (Thanks Cory Mason) can travel between Milwaukee and Kenosha to stand around and do nothing.

  13. 4:28 Thank you for that incredible but brief insight.

  14. It is possible that Doyle knows he's not going to be replaced by another liberal Democrat and is trying to stir things up as much as he can to leave the incoming Republican with as big a mess as he can? Well, when a Republican wins in the next election, and the state congress is Republican dominated, maybe we'll be able to kill this wasteful KRM non-sense forever.

  15. Why shouldn't Doyle hoist this albatross on us? He already said he isn't running for reelection. I bet a democrat doesn't win election for Governor though.

    This train will not be built in time to be any help for the Olympics if Chicago is selected.

    Wheres the money? We don't have the money. We cannot continue to purchase things. Vos has the right idea about spending and purchasing things. You may not like it, but stop acting like spoiled children throwing a tantrum for a toy in the super market. We cannot get you this toy right now. Put it on your list and save your allowance for it. :)

  16. Editorial.