March 4, 2010

Mason proposal backs KRM without need for local tax increase

The state Legislature is continuing its mystifying debate over the so-called "regional transit authorities" that would be used to pay for buses and commuter rail in southeastern Wisconsin.

Maybe this falls on the J-S reporter, but seriously, I dare anyone to read this article and explain what's going on with the RTAs. Racine State Rep. Cory Mason is somehow involved in this, but good luck trying to decipher what he's proposing along with Rep. Tamara Grisby.

Honestly, as an outsider, it seems Democrats are doing their best to muddy the waters and avoid any sort of meaningful action on an issue that's unpopular with the public. After all, most people who vote own cars and wouldn't think of using public transportation.

I'm working on a story about the stunning mismanagement of this entire process, including inept public relations on explaining how and why public transportation is important to Racine and other communities throughout southeastern Wisconsin. More on this in the next few days ...

Update: Here's a much better story by Sean Ryan of The Daily Reporter that explains Mason's proposal. Essentially, Mason is trying to avoid tax increases by dedicating local transportation aids to transit systems in Racine and Kenosha. In exchange, Racine and Kenosha need to maintain their spending on transit systems at 2010 plus an annual inflation increase.

I just talked with Mason about his proposal, which is much simpler than the J-S story suggests. Mason and Grisby came up with the plan to try and break gridlock around a regional transit authority for southeastern Wisconsin. The RTA is important because the federal government won't release roughly $250 million for the KRM commuter rail system unless there's regional cooperation on transit.

Mason's plan allows Racine and Kenosha to join the RTA, formally called the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority, or SERTA, without passing a tax increase. That's important because proposals for wheel, sales and hotel taxes are politically difficult.

Under Mason's proposal, Racine would transfer its Belle Urban System to SERTA, which would run the buses. Kenosha would do the same with its transit system. Both cities would continue to pay for the systems, plus a cost-of-living increase, and the state would allocate $2.5 million for Racine and $2.5 million for Kenosha out of the local transportation aids typically used to rebuild local roads.

Why spend money on buses instead of roads? Because it would convince the federal government to approve the $250 million for commuter rail, Mason said.

The plan, like everything with KRM, local transit and RTAs, has obstacles. One big one is Gov. Jim Doyle opposes Mason's plan. The governor favors his own proposal, which would require Racine and Kenosha to approve some sort of tax increase.

Mason said he was "disappointed" with the governor's response because Doyle's plan doesn't have enough votes to pass the Assembly. Mason said his plan has more votes than Doyle's plan, but he stopped short of saying he had enough votes to pass the proposal.

What does all this mean for KRM? It still seems like a long shot, but at least there's a proposal out there that would allow Sen. John Lehman to support commuter rail without having to support a tax increase. That's important because Lehman, D-Racine, is up for re-election this year, and he may have a tough race against Republican challenger Van Wanggaard.

Update 2: Mayor John Dickert is backing Mason's proposal.

“It takes the taxpayers of Racine out of the equation,” Dickert said in a statement from his office.

Dickert's statement added the bill requires the Department of Transportation to move from singling out roads to a more Regional Transit focus, which he feels is important because expanding highways does not necessarily help cities.


  1. I really don't think it's inept public relations, It's just perfume on a pig. The public is smarter than that.

  2. Why pay for something the public does not want or will use? Because a few Consults will make some cash or the Elite think its neat?

  3. PLEASE will someone with a brain and the financial support needed run against Mason in the fall. This isn't the first time he hasn't made sense to many of us.

  4. This whole mess sources back to one epic decision.

    John Lehman refusing to use a minor sales tax increase (partially offset with property tax decrease) as funding source for buses and KRM.

    Everything since has been a series of bad, weird, and complicated decisions to get around his stance.

  5. "...he may have a tough race against Republican challenger Van Wanggaard"

    I actually laughed at that. This is not a strong challenger. Lehman has political room to be bold here.

  6. IMHO Van Wanggaard is not even running anything I call a Campaign.

  7. Has anyone seen a map that shows where this legislation is now (in terms of what it accomplishes) and where it's been? Is there a deliberate strategy to baffle the public with so many changes and re-directions that the public loses interest?

    I, for one, am interested in KRM being successful, but it's got to make economic sense first. Tough to know from the muddle of stories if there is likely to be a positive outcome in my lifetime.

  8. ...increase, and the state would allocate $2.5 million for Racine and $2.5 million for Kenosha out of the local transportation aids typically used to rebuild local roads.

    Why spend money on buses instead of roads? Because it would convince the federal government to approve the $250 million for commuter rail, Mason said...

    I don't think the public wants KRM. So why spend money pretending to the Feds that KRM is viable?

    The public can see through the acting that surrounds KRM, just like they can see through Obamacare.

  9. Ask Dickert, He supports KRM to the fullest! More reasons why those in govt now need to replaced!

  10. It will be hard to pass any new taxes for KRM while the impact and local costs of the high speed rail are unknown. Both Lehman and Mason know it is far easier to say they are for KRM than it is to actually fund it.

    Give it a rest until high speed rail is done and we know the whole picture on that one. Remember, passenger rail is never self supporting. You don't really think the feds will continue to fund the new high speed rail after it is done and losing money. Doyle and Obama get the momentary rush of spending even more money but both will be long gone by the time the reality of their spending comes crashing down.

  11. The Translator3/04/2010 3:30 PM

    Another reason to vote our Cory the carpetbagger in November. Who is helping you write this bill?

  12. Regional transit is absolutely necessary for the majority, the minority opposition never leave Racine thus have no need for any kind of transportation. Sitting in front of their computers they make a lot of unnecessary noise unfortunately our small minded representatives listen to them.

  13. Is that you Jay?

  14. Mason slipped into the amendment an odd provision:

    59.58 (7) (dm) A KRM commuter rail line may not include a stop in any
    municipality in the authority’s jurisdictional area unless the municipality in which
    the stop is to be located has a sustainable mechanism to help fund local transit and
    the municipality is a member of the authority.

    Now, there's only two stops planned in areas which don't have a local transit system, Caledonia and Somers. Both of these are low density residential and rural areas, they don't need buses. So, why doesn't Mason want them to get a train stop?

  15. Please explain to me why we need a system designed to run at a 90% loss that we can't afford?

    Even you support this the timing is wrong!!!!!!!!

  16. Seems like Menso is smoking that foot long bong they found in Beckers house also. Who in their right non-imaginative mind believes that you can maintain the system they are proposing without raising any kind of taxs/fees. You have to be brain dead to believe that. Its like saying that you can have a health care system for 30 million people without raiseing taxs and that it will be self supporting, now seriously, who the heck believes that?(p.s. the liberals believe that)

  17. We already have a 79 mph train that is popular and on time, why is this even being considered? Why bow down to the pressure of a few large corporations, their employees could be picked up by a special shuttle service in Sturtevant. Many large companies do this in Deerfield IL, why not here?

    What will a slow train with many stops accomplish, not to mention the cost of installing the second rail line?

  18. It is nice to know that Dickert supports a plan for KRM and a RTA that is unworkable. The federal government is going to say no and the Governor is going to say no. I thought he was smarter than that.