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.