Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Zielinski Again Attacks Mayor, Streetcar

And again his math doesn't add up.

By - Oct 24th, 2017 10:06 am
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Tony Zielinski and the Streetcar.

Tony Zielinski and the Streetcar.

Less than a week after he held an anti-streetcar, pro-police offer press conference, Alderman Tony Zielinski was back at it, but his budget math still doesn’t add up.

After spending the last press conference attacking Mayor Tom Barrett and two streetcar-related positions in the budget, Zielinski spent this press conference attacking the mayor and a $315,000 budget allocation from the parking fund to operate the streetcar. The catch? Because of the $10 million, 12-year Potawatomi Hotel & Casino sponsorship deal, these streetcar costs are completely offset by the incoming streetcar sponsorship.

Zielinski will propose amendments to eliminate the streetcar budget items, a move he says will result in only 26, not 33 police officer positions being eliminated. The math on that doesn’t check out though, as eliminating the streetcar-related items would presumably force the project to stop, end the Potawatomi sponsorship and cause the federal government to demand the return of its grant for the streetcar.

In brief, as Zielinski’s plan is currently described, it would not only not save the city any money, but would likely cause the city to receive a large bill from the federal government. No jobs for police officers or firefighters would be saved.

Without sharing any details, Zielinski again reiterated that he has budget amendments waiting to restore the positions of every single eliminated police officer position. He said those amendments would begin to be released in the next week or two.

Has Zielinski talked to the mayor about any of this? “We haven’t talked about it,” Zielinski said.

He went on to state “He can play a wordsmith game and say I meant that no tax levy dollars and this is coming from the parking fund. That parking fund money could be used to reduce taxes or to fund cops or to go to the streetcar.” And while that’s true in the abstract, these specific budget items are offset by a corresponding amount of funding from Potawatomi.

What are these streetcar budget items? The budget includes $208,000 for the creation of two positions related to the city’s management of the streetcar. In addition, $315,000 is included that is required as a 20 percent match for a grant provided by the federal government to operate the streetcar.

The city will eventually need to pay $3.6 million a year to private operator Transdev to operate and maintain the streetcar. That cost will be offset by farebox revenue, the federal grant and sponsorships. The city isn’t anticipating a budget impact from the streetcar until at least 2021, some three years after it begins operations (and Barrett has said the city is still seeking other sponsors). The streetcar, now known as The Hop, is scheduled to begin operation in November 2018.

Zielinski for Mayor?

At the Potawatomi announcement, Ald. Robert Bauman proclaimed “I suspect that once and for all the politics have left this project. There is nothing left to complain about.” He was clearly way too optimistic.

The anti-streetcar press conference used to be the domain of Ald. Robert Donovan, who attempted to use it as a wedge issue in his run for mayor. Is Tony Zielinski doing the same?

Mayor’s Office Responds

Mayor Barrett’s Chief of Staff Patrick Curley issued the following statement after initial publication of this article.

“Frankly, I’m troubled and puzzled why it took Alderman Tony “The Backdrop” Zielinski close to four weeks to locate pages 300.2, 310.3 and 480.5 of the proposed Executive Budget to see, in plain and public view, the parking funds set aside to match federal transit dollars. For a fella who sells himself as being fiscally responsible you’d think he would have gone through the budget documents prior to yesterday. But then again, without enough due diligence, he did vote for the Milwaukee County pension debacle. The truth is that the Administration has been very clear that the Potawatomi’s sponsorship of the streetcar diminishes the need to utilize parking fund revenues for the next couple of years and we expect to see various amendments to spend those funds.”

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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.

6 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Zielinski Again Attacks Mayor, Streetcar”

  1. John says:

    What a joke and a waste of time. Of course Zielinkski is using this as his platform to run for mayor. He is intentionally misleading people with false information for his political gain.

  2. iced tea says:

    This article is the first time I have read where a local StreetCar supporter has cited the possibility of Federal funds being clawed back as a reason to be currently supportive. Back when this was “free money”, one may have been deemed a “StreetCar Heretic” for suggesting such a possible downside.
    I guess as a consolation prize for nay-sayers, many of your grumblings are now safe to be warmed-over on the occasion of other city priorities being underfunded.
    Also mentioned in this article is farebox revenue- Thank you Potawatomi for covering substantial operating costs, as there will likely never be much, if any farebox revenue ever.

    3.6 million a year for operating costs might be like $6 a year from every man, woman, and child in the City of Milwaukee. We’re not gonna die, which is nice.

  3. Tony says:

    Mr. Zielinkski please run for mayor. I want to see if you can do better than peeper but I’m doubtful.

  4. Bay View Justice League says:

    One Trick Tony is employing the only strategy he knows: lie and bully his way into the spotlight.

  5. Bill Sell says:

    Ice Tea: This federal clawback is nothing new. It has always been front and center an issue when, before the City made the decision to fund the streetcar in 2015, it was well known that the Feds could take back the funding if the City decided not to build the streetcar. i.e., the money was not available for anything else.

    For its parallel story, may I recall, back in 2007 (I believe) a developer wanted to use land given to the City by the Feds for an environmental corridor along the KK River. That railroad right of way had been ceded to the City to provide for the environmental corridor with a (now constructed) bike/ped bridge over Chase. The developer’s plan died when Alderman Bauman read an authoritative letter to the committee saying that the Feds might well clawback and claim the value of the land ( a couple of million dollars ), which would then be part of the cost of the development. City not wanting to donate precious land to an otherwise lame attempt to house the homeless in a truck parking environment on the South Side, City allowed the developer’s dream to pop. Clawback is real, Ice Tea, and not an invention of the streetcar planners.

  6. When will Tony answer for the two hundred thousand dollars that was never repaid to the city from the now defunct Sweet Water Organics aquaponics disaster???

    How about the fact that he sat on a committee that tried to submarine the Marriott Hotel project downtown???

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