Jeramey Jannene

Governor Doyle Vetoes Milwaukee County Sales Tax for Transit

By - Jul 2nd, 2009 07:18 am
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When the budget finally made it to his desk, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle used his extensive veto powers in a lot of ways.  The most significant of which was arguably the line-item veto of the Milwaukee Transit Authority and the proposed 0.65% sales tax increase for Milwaukee County.  Doyle did not veto SERTA, the authority which is to run the KRM commuter rail line, and the $18 rental car tax.  This veto puts back on the drawing board Doyle’s proposal for a three-county sales tax to fund the KRM and bus service in Kenosha, Racine, and Milwaukee Counties, while at the same time not delaying the KRM development process.

The move, which many see as a slam of Milwaukee by Doyle, arguably shouldn’t be completely viewed that way.  Doyle did propose a three-county sales tax of up to 0.5% for Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha Counties to establish an authority that would operate all of the transit in the area including the KRM.  Doyle’s reasoning for the veto was that the MTA didn’t have a regional approach.

Some have speculated that this was done as part of Doyle’s potential re-election bid.  That it was an attempt to position himself against Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker.  I don’t buy that, Doyle had proposed the sales tax in his budget previously, and he wouldn’t have allowed the KRM to continue to move forward because, Walker will surely run all over rural Wisconsin talking about “Doyle’s choo choo,” sales tax or no sales tax.  If Doyle was that desperate to position himself against Walker, he would have vetoed the KRM as well.  I can’t speak for Doyle, but I think this was a clear statement to southeastern Wisconsin to get its act in order and come up with a functional, regional solution.

So what’s next? Something has to happen as the 2010 MCTS funding crisis is quickly approaching.  The word on the street is that Doyle is pushing the legislature for a real regional sales tax for Kenosha, Racine, and Milwaukee Counties to be introduced as its own legislation.

Now is the time for the Milwaukee caucus to actually deliver for their constituents and get this done.  We’ve watched Lena Taylor and Pedro Colon settle on the Joint Finance Committee for a compromise that gave Racine and Kenosha a free ride as a way to protect Racine Senator John Lehman, but now is the time for real action, real solutions.  Because with the funding crisis looming, and Scott Walker probably willing to cut off his own arm to avoid raising taxes, it’s now or never time.

Unfortunately, what is the Milwaukee caucus doing right now?  Pouting.  Taylor, Colon, and Grigsby led the charge on the Joint Finance Committee to vote down a small spending allotment of $35,000 to further study the KRM.

Even worse, Milwaukee County Board Chair, Lee Holloway has given a series of statements which sound more like a whining teenager, than someone who is determined to leverage his friends in the legislature to go out and get a real funding solution for a real crisis.

Meanwhile, Holloway said he would work against the KRM line by appointing himself and an ally to the transit authority board.

“We are going to vote against the KRM, right down the line,” Holloway said.

“It’s just terrible,” Holloway said. “I’m very critical of (Doyle). I thought he was a friend of Milwaukee County.”

It’s time for our Milwaukee caucus to bring home a real dedicated funding solution for transit in southeastern Wisconsin.

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3 thoughts on “Governor Doyle Vetoes Milwaukee County Sales Tax for Transit”

  1. Fred says:

    Your caucus blew that by playig partisan politics.

  2. Joe Klein says:

    If the Governor wants to score political points, then he should invite all the players except Scott Walker to a meeting in Madison and jawbone them into a solid agreement.

    Doyle needs to lock everyone in a room and not let them out until they come up with:

    1. An RTA that covers both mass transit in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha Counties, and KRM.
    2. Provides a dedicated revenue stream to pay for mass transit that does not use property taxes.

    He can speed the process by putting them in a room without food or sanitary facilities.

    An even sweeter thing would be to to empower the RTA to regulate all rail, ports, airports and roads, so it could in reality plan and coordinate transportation, then give the RTA an elected board therefore defusing the no representation without representation folderol. On these two last counts I expect a complete lack of vision bordering on blindness by our elected officials of both major parties.

    I have never heard Walker use the word “choo-choo,” only his allies and supporters. My computer dictionary gives the following definition:

    Choo-Choo: noun; a child’s word for a railroad train or locomotive, esp. a steam engine.

    In Wisconsin politics it is childish word used by childish people who are unwilling to have an adult debate regarding transit.

  3. I still don’t think that the lack of a regional approach is a coherent explanation for why Doyle vetoed the Milwaukee County sales tax.

    1) With the veto, he avoids being attacked on the fact that he signed into law a sales tax in a highly populated area, and the lack of a dedicated funding source for transit might force Walker to make tough funding decisions that open Walker to attack.

    2) Maybe I’m missing something, but for the life of me, I just can’t figure out how a Milwaukee County sales tax, administered through a county RTA (and potentially later administered through the regional RTA or by the county itself), makes a regional approach to transit more difficult. If anything, it brings a regional approach closer to fruition by securing a legitimate funding source in one of the counties and by improving the Milwaukee bus system whose function will be critical to the success of KRM.

    3) I think people, particularly moderates, are more likely to view Doyle harshly if they’re paying more (sales) taxes than they would if they merely watched the news and noticed the construction of a commuter rail line that they’re not paying for.

    I won’t vouch for Milwaukee’s leaders, but they do have a legitimate beef. Doyle and Walker are playing politics and are using Milwaukee as a pawn in the chess game. Rejecting the sales tax tells me that Doyle doesn’t care about the welfare of Milwaukee, city or county. The most charitable view is that Doyle is shafting Milwaukee now in order to do good for Milwaukee later, but Wisconsin’s historical treatment of Milwaukee makes this theory hard to swallow. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    Lastly, I haven’t seen much of any discussion of the public safety portion of the killed sales tax. That veto denies the City of Milwaukee something like $12 million/year for police and fire, money that the city desperately needs. Wisconsin has strangled Milwaukee financially over the years by limiting Milwaukee’s revenue sources in a way that prevents Milwaukee from obtaining fair revenue from nonresident freeriders, and also by creating a shared revenue scheme that disproportionately burdens Milwaukee. Doyle vetoed an opportunity to lighten up on the strangling.

    Such treatment will surely continue for the rest of time unless Milwaukee leaders can get their act together and generate enough power to influence Wisconsin on these issues. Pouting isn’t the way to do that. Instead of pouting, they should be reaching out to transit advocates who don’t seem extremely concerned about how Milwaukee is being treated, even though SE WI transit and more fairness in Milwaukee’s revenue structure both have the purposes of generating economic development and increasing quality of life in the area. There’s no reason why transit advocates and Milwaukee’s leadership can’t be completely aligned. In the meantime, Doyle deserves a heap of scorn from Milwaukee residents.

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