Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Republicans Heap Hate On Streetcar

Three different legislative changes to oppose the project; all will have no impact.

By - Sep 7th, 2017 03:52 pm
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A rendering of a Brookville streetcar in Milwaukee's Third Ward. Milwaukee's streetcars will be manufactured by U.S.-based Brookville Equipment Corp.

A rendering of a Brookville streetcar in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Milwaukee’s streetcars will be manufactured by U.S.-based Brookville Equipment Corp.

Republicans in Wisconsin love to hate the Milwaukee Streetcar.

That isn’t exactly news, given that the project is made up of two things the state GOP routinely opposes — Milwaukee and anything involving mass transit. But despite the fact that rails are now literally in the ground, members of the Joint Committee on Finance couldn’t help but take another swing at the project this week when they finally passed a budget on a 12-4 party-line vote.

The 2017-2019 state budget is months behind schedule because of a stalemate between Republicans, including Governor Scott Walker, over how to fund transportation. A compromise proposal was finally passed on Tuesday  that includes a $75 annual fee for hybrid vehicles and a $100 annual fee for electric vehicles, $2.5 million to study toll roads, $402 million in new borrowing and delays on a number of projects, including work on the Zoo Interchange and Interstate 94 between the Zoo Interchange and Downtown. It also includes a couple swipes at the Milwaukee Streetcar, which despite being included in the budget, will actually have no fiscal impact.

The item dealing with the streetcar project doesn’t list a specific author, but similar budget amendments have been inserted by Republican Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield in 2013 and 2015. Kooyenga, whose district includes a portion of Milwaukee’s far west side, is a member of the Joint Finance Committee.

The section on the streetcar notes that “a City of Milwaukee TIF district may not incur direct or indirect expense related to the operation of a rail fixed guideway system.” Ominous sounding language, until you notice that its specifically about the operation of a system. The city has never approved using a tax-incremental financing district to fund the operation of the system. Instead the city has already approved using $59 million from three TIF districts to fund the capital costs related to constructing the $128 million system (federal grants will fund the rest).

How will the city fund the operation of the system? The plan approved by the Common Council in 2015 included the intent to fund the system through a combination of fare box revenue, advertising and the city’s parking fund. A federal grant has been secured to pay for the initial 18 months of operating costs, and the city hopes to secure one additional 18 month federal grant to support the operating costs of the system.

That plan apparently isn’t enough for the state. Republican legislators doubled down on a Milwaukee County ordinance restricting the county from paying for any costs related to the project by enshrining it into the budget. They also prevented the state from incurring any direct or indirect expenses related to the project, this includes “state urban mass transit operating assistance.” The operating assistance fund is heavily relied on by the Milwaukee County Transit System and other state bus systems to fund their operations, but the city has never publicly announced that they anticipated receiving funding from it.

So what does all this language accomplish? Nothing.

W. St. Paul Ave. Streetcar Track. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

W. St. Paul Ave. Streetcar Track. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, who must fight over table scraps to fund MCTS annually, were never going to vote to give money to the city for the streetcar. Similarly, members of the state legislature weren’t going to vote to send money to operate the Milwaukee Streetcar. And multiple sources note that using TIF money for operations of anything is almost certainly already illegal under state law.

Republican legislators can head back to their districts to tell their constituents they put laws into place to stop Milwaukee from building that “boondoggle” for a “choo choo train.”  But the reality is the new legislation has almost no impact and construction on the project continues. Operations are still slated to begin in late 2018.

The Assembly and Senate both most still approve the deal, and Gov. Walker maintains a “frankenstein veto” that would allow him to strike certain words from the legislation. Unlike the last state budget, don’t expect Walker to aid the streetcar in any way, shape or form.

Barrett Stays Quiet

Likely in a move designed to avoid poking the bear, the administration of Mayor Tom Barrett has been incredibly quiet on the matter. They issued a brief statement noting “Despite the fact that the State is not funding The Milwaukee Streetcar, there are members of the legislature who don’t like the project. We’ve asked the City Attorney to review the motion that the Joint Committee on Finance passed last night and once we have that information we will be in a better position to plan and move forward.”

Perhaps desiring to control the news cycle, the Barrett administration also announced yesterday that they have selected an operator for the system. One would ordinarily expect a privatized government service to be met with applause by conservatives, but apparently not in the state legislature.

Alderman Robert Bauman, an ardent streetcar supporter, summed up the whole issue succinctly when he told Mary SpicuzzaIt appears they’re trying to stop us from doing what we weren’t going to do anyway.

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More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

For more information on project details, how the operator will be selected, what the vehicles will be like, and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.

29 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Republicans Heap Hate On Streetcar”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    Does Kooyenga think Brookfield doesn’t benefit from Milwaukee? Doesn’t he think people live there at least partly due to its proximity to Milwaukee? How many times a year do Brookfield residents go to Brewers or Bucks games? Visit a museum or a restaurant in Milwaukee? The shortsightedness is so maddening. This state is Kansas or Nebraska without Milwaukee. Yet idiotic legislators like Kooyenga keep trying to punish Milwaukee while also bashing it every chance they get. They are colossally ignorant.

  2. When they have the grand opening ribbon cutting, it will be interesting to see who shows or doesn’t show up.

  3. tom says:

    Republicans enjoy paying $50M in taxpayer dollars for choo-choo trains that are never delivered. They love to turn $800 million back to the feds to keep high speed rail out of Wisconsin. If more people took the time to discover how much damage has been done by these clowns they’d be out of office in a second. The most ignorant ideologue of them all is Walker.

  4. StevenM says:

    Republicans aren’t the only ones. At least one local Dem is working hard to derail it. Tony Z.

  5. Steve M. says:

    Please, there is opposition for this on both sides of the aisle. In fact, most opinions are see against this.

  6. Charles veit says:

    Tony Z. is a poor excuse for an alderman. I cannot wait for the streetcar to begin operations.

  7. Steve says:

    For those who support the Streetcar ought to do a google search on the performance of Cincinnati’s Streetcar and will find it is only drawing in half the projected ridership.If Milwaukee’sstreetcar can’t do any better then we got a boondoggle!

  8. Vincent Hanna says:

    Is Tony Z really a Democrat? Either way, he’s a tool. Steve M., where do you get that stat of most against? A poll of your Facebook friends?

    Hey Steve google the Kansas City streetcar and tell me how it’s doing.

  9. WashCoRepub says:

    Excellent move by the Republicans… when this thing starts bleeding cash, the Milwaukee legislators will start grasping everywhere they can for a buck to prop it up. Barrett won’t be able to lay off cops or firefighters fast enough to keep the money flowing.

    I don’t hate the streetcar… I get a good laugh out of it. Brightens my day.

  10. Vincent Hanna says:

    It’s sad that people root for Milwaukee to fail. Why would anyone with half-a-brain want the state’s largest city to fail? It doesn’t make any sense. And the same people who actively hope for Milwaukee’s failure are just outraged when you call them narrow-minded right-wingers.

  11. AG says:

    If someone lives in Milwaukee and doesn’t like the streetcar… fine… tell your legislator. But what is up with all these politicians from outside of Milwaukee caring so much about something that doesn’t affect them? Jeramey is probably right… most likely it is purely the combination of Milwaukee and mass transit… but man, it really doesn’t make any logical sense.

  12. Bruce Thompson says:

    I think the obsession with the street car makes more sense if one chalks it up to a desire to control how other people live.

  13. McLovin says:

    The only reason I would burden comments with the suggestion that I predicted something like these efforts (over?) a year ago, is because I am a dope, and folks who regularly talk to decision-makers here probably shouldn’t present this as some kind of surprise injustice.
    Of course we’re not funding operations w/ TIF money, or whatever State funds. There are no operations to experience “needy” shortfalls yet. It’s possible that the future will actually thank the State GOP for not cutting funds to MCTS for this.

    I’ve disliked The Streetcar for some time now, but now that it’s here, I hope it doesn’t fail.
    As entertaining as it might be to waggle my finger at all the streetcar B.S. of the last many years, I’d rather just be wrong.

  14. Vincent Hanna says:

    I’m always happy when we can find agreement AG, like this issue. That might be it Bruce. They can’t imagine people actually desiring car-alternative transportation because they have no interest in it. They don’t want to ride in anything but their car so why would anyone else. These legislators are some ignorant, dishonorable folks.

  15. The sad part about this is that cities around the country are investing heavily in their mass transit. They are getting funds from Federal, State and local sources. They are investing in Mass Transit for a few reasons. They want to get people to jobs without crowding their roadways for a predictable two times a day. They are aware that a massive amount of aging seniors will become house bound as they lose their ability to drive. They want to free acres of valuable downtown property, currently used to park cars. And, the list goes on.
    I agree with those that have noted that by heaping hate on Milwaukee, this state is short sighted and economically foolish

  16. Thomas Spellman says:

    We need an armchair analyst to figure out why they HATE this project so. What do they fear Hummmm Waukesha has a significant minority population so it couldn’t the easy of anyone to visit the shops in Brookfield or ??? The irony is that most of the people that could benefit from the Light Rail are suburbanites who work downtown.

  17. Peter Maier says:

    Apparently Milwaukee intends to submit a proposal for Amazon HQ2. I have no comment on that, but one of Amazon’s requirements is: “…onsite access to mass transit…” (NY Times, 9/8/17, page B3).

  18. blurondo says:

    It’s highly likely that the majority of Kooyenga’s constituents earn their living in the City of Milwaukee. The time for a municipal income tax is way past due.

  19. Vincent Hanna says:

    I read Toronto is a leading contender for Amazon HQ2, followed by Atlanta and other cities in the Southeast.

  20. mkwagner says:

    Look at the success of the streetcar in the Twin Cities. It meant its first year ridership goal within the first three months of operation. What’s more it has generated billions of dollars of investment. It has not been a boondoggle quite the opposite! Of course, it takes vision to understand how investment in infrastructure pays dividends in the long haul.

  21. mkwagner says:

    Look at the success of the streetcar in the Twin Cities. It met its first year ridership goal within the first three months of operation. What’s more it has generated billions of dollars of investment. It has not been a boondoggle quite the opposite! Of course, it takes vision to understand how investment in infrastructure pays dividends in the long haul.

  22. Peter Maier says:

    An Axios piece on contenders for HQ2, Minneapolis among them:
    https://www.axios.com/5-potential-contenders-for-amazons-next-headquarters-2482680712.html

  23. Rich says:

    I rode the KC streetcar in late August. The vehicles are nice and it was certainly motivating to go use it because it was there (e.g. I would not have taken the bus to achieve the same trip). Family that lives there has also used it a few times to provide options for parking during popular events and to connect two or more events without having to move a car.

    If anything though, it was actually suffering from its own success. The trains were full and boarding took a long time for people to file in and out. Good thing they’ve ordered more trainsets for the system.

  24. Will says:

    The biggest boondoggle is our state roads. The GOP did nothing to address our crumblind roads and kick the can down the road at 22% interest on every dollar spent on the worst roads in the country. Cities like milwaukee are booming because of forward thinking. Suburbs and rural areas are aging with no future for young staying around.

  25. tom says:

    WashCoRepub: I’m happy that you are tickled by your public display of ignorance. That says it all. Please have a happy life in Wash Co.

  26. WashCoRepub says:

    Awwww, thanks Tom, appreciate the thought! You too… be careful if you’re down by the Journal building though, sounds like the Wild West out there. Probably those concealed-carry permit holders from the suburbs causing trouble again.

  27. Vincent Hanna says:

    I’m surprised you have time to respond to someone WashCoRepub as your kid was probably overdosing as you typed that, what with the opioid epidemic ravaging the suburbs, which is partly why in the last few years suburbs saw a major crime increase at the same time that crime fell dramatically in urban centers.

  28. Rich says:

    I watched the security cam video of the shooting by the JS. What I didn’t see was a good-guy-with-a-gun performing some on-the-spot vigilante justice (via a wild spraying of bullets at sidewalk occupants on the other side of the street, but we won’t let pesky consequences like that get in the way of a good narrative). I guess WashCoRepug was protecting a different part of our fine land during that time frame…Heroes just can’t be everywhere, don’t ya know?

  29. Janet says:

    So much dislike of Milwaukee on the part of Madison and suburban representatives is ridiculous. I agree with Mr. Hanna, why would they want Wisconsin’s largest city to fail? Don’t they realize the economic effect a city this size has on the area? The prejudice against mass transit in this state and city is appalling and regressive.

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