Ald. Bob Donovan
Press Release

Mayor looking to shut down public vote on downtown streetcar

Statement from Alderman Bob Donovan December 8, 2014

By - Dec 8th, 2014 12:07 pm

I’ve learned that the mayor is making a desperate attempt to thwart a referendum on the streetcar project by having the Redevelopment Authority issue bonds to pay for the construction costs. The move is meant to sneak around the state statute provision that allows for a referendum on the borrowing for the project.

I say shame, shame, shame on you mayor!

This desperate attempt to deny the people of Milwaukee the opportunity to have their voices heard on the streetcar shows just how out of touch and scared the mayor has become on this issue. I would ask him what he’s so afraid of – but now I’m starting to wonder if he’s losing the few marbles I thought he still had left!

I am now exploring possible legal options to stop this Hail Mary end-around, and keep in mind that using general obligation bonds is the usual way to pay for large public works projects. Also, having the Redevelopment Authority issue bonds for the streetcar project is not only wrong, it could end up being more expensive for the taxpayers of Milwaukee in the long run.
But the mayor doesn’t care.

But there are many, many others who do care – including state legislators. In fact, I am hearing more and more from state leaders that the mayor’s double down and continued hard push on the downtown streetcar is getting to the point of jeopardizing state help for a new arena. This sneaky borrowing move will likely not help matters, Mr. Mayor.

Legislators out-state are asking why the mayor is pushing full-throttle on this boondoggle trolley. Specifically, they are wary of helping the city with the arena project because they are taken aback by the mayor’s desperation, and his insistence on pushing ahead on a project that is wasteful and makes no sense.

They are wondering aloud whether the mayor has misplaced priorities, and quite frankly, I wholeheartedly agree!

The mayor’s continued abandonment of common sense could, in the long run, hurt Milwaukee. Perhaps even worse, his self-induced, all-in coupling to the streetcar project could already be spoiling opportunities for partnerships that could help move our city forward.

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35 thoughts on “Mayor looking to shut down public vote on downtown streetcar”

  1. adam says:

    It sounds like Bob should move out to the burbs where he can be with like-minded individuals. Seeking out state legislators to try and sabotage a city initiative?? Really Bob, is this what a city alder should be doing?

  2. PMD says:

    Donovan sounds like a dinosaur, like your old grumpy uncle always griping about kids these days. And why should we care what out-state legislators think about a project in Milwaukee? And of course he’s exploring his legal options, because we all know how much conservatives hate frivolous lawsuits.

  3. Scott says:

    What’s wrong with having it put to a vote by the people of Milwaukee? Because Tommy knows how unpopular it already is and that will just cement it’s failure. It’s been pushed by him, OnMilwaukee.com, various other outlets and it’s more unpopular now than before. Also, Adam and PMD we should care about what out of state legislators since federal dollars are going for this.

  4. adam says:

    Scott-
    Bob is trying to recruit state opponents, not federal. By out-state they mean the burbs and redneck country. The funding for the extension of the streetcar is all through TIFs which will be payed for by city taxpayers, not state. Also the TIFs are being funded by all new developments, so while this new money is being diverted from the city coffers, it isn’t taking away from existing funding. The state should have no involvment in this process. They have already had way too much involvment through the frivolous utility lawsuit. Just let Milwaukee move forward. Can’t Milwaukee have nice things??

  5. PMD says:

    So we should care what legislators in Wyoming think about a public transportation project in Milwaukee because some federal money is being used? And when you claim it’s “more unpopular now than ever before,” what are you basing that on?

  6. Kyle says:

    Adam, has it not occurred to you that “redneck country” might view the streetcar issue and the arena issue as related? Spending $130 million on a streetcar, claiming there’s plenty of money to support it and subsidize riders, then turning around and asking the state for $150 million for an arena because Milwaukee can’t go it alone? Sure, those following the issue know the difference, but city leaders are doing their best to alienate those out-state votes.

    And yes, I understand that streetcar money really isn’t available for an arena. But you need to go tell all the “rednecks” that, not me. Good luck.

  7. PMD says:

    I don’t get why we should care what legislators in say Wyoming think about a public transportation project in Milwaukee.

    And when you say that the project is more unpopular than ever, how do you know that?

  8. PMD says:

    Sorry for the double post. #5 didn’t show up for a while and I figured it wasn’t going to.

  9. Kyle says:

    The representative from Wyoming isn’t going to take back the federal dollars. This is about authorizing funding for the arena. There isn’t much beyond frivolous lawsuits that anyone outside of Milwaukee can do to stop the streetcar, and thanks to some creative financing, not much residents of Milwaukee can do either (though I’d bet money that loophole gets closed soon – well, soon as far as politics is concerned). Donovan is threatening the arena unless the streetcar is stopped. Milwaukee can circumvent that too by deciding to go it alone on arena funding.

  10. Scott says:

    PMD, I’m basing the unpopularity on what’s being said by the regular people in Milwaukee and it’s not a situation of “well I opposed it at first, but the more I learned about it…” just the opposite. If this was on a public ballot do you think it would get it passed? I don’t and you’re talking about a town that hasn’t elected a Republican mayor in 100 years.

    Adam, I’m a city taxpayer, I don’t plan to ride the streetcar (I’ll just go for the 10 min walk instead) and I don’t want pay more taxes for something like this. I don’t believe the hype of “people will come to Milwaukee to ride the streetcar”. Milwaukee is a city that needs to manage money better i.e. Malcolm X Academy, the sinking City Hall and the list goes on. So to answer your question yes Milwaukee can have “nice things” when they’re useful things. I just don’t see this a useul just a passing fade and they tried to float the balloon not that long ago about a subway in Milwaukee which will be the next thing they’ll push.

  11. PMD says:

    What regular people? Your friends and co-workers? And how is that evidence of widespread opposition to the streetcar in Milwaukee? Have you talked to thousands of people? Calling your evidence flimsy is being too kind. And just because you have no plans to use it does not mean it won’t be useful.

  12. Scott says:

    PMD, well then let’s put it to a public vote if you think so many people are behind or do you issues with that like the mayor does?

  13. PMD says:

    I definitely believe it is more popular in Milwaukee than you claim.

  14. Scott says:

    Well then email the mayor, tell him to put it to a public vote and you’ve got your trolley

  15. PMD says:

    Scott are you this concerned about the hundreds of millions of dollars the state is about to waste on freeway expansion?

  16. Scott says:

    PMD,
    Way to change the subject! I’m commenting on this article not on freeway expansions, abortion issues, war on women, health insurance etc. I’ll comment on those articles if I feel the need to. When the trolley starts bleeding money you can pay my portion. ok?

  17. PMD says:

    I wasn’t changing the subject Scott. It’s related to transportation and cost. Your objection to the streetcar is fiscal. I’m wondering if that also applies to freeway expansion. See how that works?

  18. Kyle says:

    Public votes aren’t a very good way to decide capital expenditure projects. You’ll consistently get a response of “Nine figures for something I’ll never use? No way!”. If you condition the population right, you can eventually convince them to approve everything except funding the way California does.

    Scott, not everyone will ride the streetcar. Not everyone rides the bus, and there was a time not everyone was connected to city water and sewer. Those turned out okay too (though not without some issues). I probably won’t ride the streetcar either (beyond the novelty factor once perhaps). I’ll lament that the park and ride system is under used and would really benefit from the improved stops that the streetcar gets (aside from construction project, are we really going to move the park and rides?)

    PMD, you may not use the freeway, but it’s over capacity now. And expansion will address the current capacity issue and a moderate projected increase. You assuming the leveling off of miles driven will last indefinitely, while scoffing at those who think driving will increase indefinitely. It’s not the job of this project to discourage people from taking the freeway, despite what you want. If this were a data plan, it’d be an 8 GB plan that we use 10 GB of, but plan to upgrade to a 15 GB plan. Sure, it’s technically more than we need today, and having more will probably encourage more use, but that doesn’t change the fact that it solves a current issue.

  19. Kyle says:

    Oh, and the streetcar is designed to bleed money. They’ll increase parking rates, implement meters on weekends, and anything else needed to both pay for the streetcar and “encourage” using it.

  20. PMD says:

    Kyle I use the freeway. I never said otherwise. Not sure why you make that claim. Expanding freeways does not alleviate traffic and won’t solve congestion problems. So you’re wrong, expansion will not address capacity issues.

  21. Scott says:

    If it’s waste then yes I do oppose it, but I’m trying to focus on one transportation waste at a time. Trolley now, before that it was the bike lane over Hoan bridge and the kids riding bikes across my parents lawn and them having to reseed the area (the bikes were the transportation and the seed was the cost; see how that works?) I’m sure there were other projects in there, but I’ll have to check the captain’s log of things I’m opposed to i.e pirates, mutiny, Kraken

  22. PMD says:

    I’m sorry for assuming you are capable of handing a broader conversation on transportation and cost. My mistake. Won’t happen again.

  23. PMD says:

    It might bleed money Kyle. That’s possible. But I think it’s worth the risk and is a sound investment in the future of Milwaukee.

  24. Scott says:

    I’m sorry for assuming you could answer a question of “If this was on a public ballot do you think it would get it passed?” Even if it was non-binding I just don’t think the backing is there, just like building an arena for a bad basketball team with billionaire owners that donate to millionaire politicians (yes I know they’re at .500, but I’m looking at the past 10 years or so and no I don’t care if the those politicians were D or R)

  25. PMD says:

    Way to change the subject! I’m commenting on this article, not building a new Bucks arena. For real though, the Bucks haven’t always been bad. Should only teams with a winning record get new stadiums?

  26. Scott says:

    PMD, So I’m gonna assume your answer is “No the trolley wouldn’t get the votes”. Bad teams can get new stadiums, but it’s a challenge and it should be at a greater cost to the billionaire owners. It’s going to take a lot of work by the Bucks pr staff to sell a new arena on an overall bad team. Can you imagine if the Packers tried to sell their more recent renovation during the down years of the 70’s and 80’s.

  27. PMD says:

    Re: Bucks arena, yeah, I agree. I actually think the streetcar would get the votes in Milwaukee. As I said, I believe it’s more popular than you do.

  28. Kyle says:

    PMD, the investment is about stimulating growth and overall features Milwaukee wants to have. It could very well be a sound investment in that regard, though I think it need to get to UWM and probably Marquette to reach the volume of users it needs to be considered successful. The Mayor’s own projections say it will take in roughly $850,000 in revenue (fares + ads) and cost roughly $2,400,000 to operate. And advocates for a project usually take the optimistic numbers. It’s going to bleed money. Fortunately, Bauman says there’s plenty of money in Milwaukee to cover this.

  29. Bruce Thompson says:

    Kyle,
    Of course all transportation projects “bleed money” if by that you mean that users don’t pay the full cost. The freeway expansion is only feasible because people all over Wisconsin and the US will help pay for it.
    We now have the technology so highway users could pay for the costs they impose. Set up a toll like those on the Illinois Tollway and charge a fee (much higher at peak hours) sufficient to pay for the expansion. My suspicion is that traffic would decline sufficiently so (1) there was no need for expansion and (2) that the amount collected would be too small to pay for it.

  30. Observer says:

    We should have had a referendum on the high speed train that Scottie and Behling poo pooed.

  31. PMD says:

    “PMD, the investment is about stimulating growth and overall features Milwaukee wants to have.”

    Yes I know. That’s basically what I said. And Milwaukee is right to want to have it Kyle.

  32. Kyle says:

    Bruce, Scott used the term “bleed money” before I did. I was just pointing out that it’s designed to need subsidies. I would be interested in looking deeper into the cost structure of roads. Of course fees on cars don’t pay for major replacement projects, but are they sufficient to fund the regular upkeep? The streetcar won’t pay back a penny of the construction and require help for on-going operation. It’d be interesting to see which comes out ahead per user. Also, I’d caution you to be careful what you wish for with a tollway. People are really good at finding alternate routes (particularly in the smartphone era). You just might make the major roads much more unfriendly to bicycles. You’ll also further complicate the lives of those who live in the city and have to commute to the bus-less suburbs for a job.

    PMD, I tend to agree with you that a complete system would be a benefit to Milwaukee. Where I disagree is with how easy everyone seems to think it will be to go from a starter system to a complete system. The current attitude of Milwaukee going alone on this (and avoiding a referendum) will set a precedent that will discourage the rest of the state from supporting the expansions. Particularly when Milwaukee inevitably asks the suburbs to start kicking in their share. I think if it doesn’t get past the starter system, it will be used to hammer Milwaukee relentlessly from both sides, as a liberal boondoggle and as a toy for rich white people downtown that the rest of Milwaukee has to pay for.

    Observer, some would say we had a referendum on that in 2010, given how prominently Walker campaigned against the train. So much so that the money was pulled before he had the chance to formally reject it.

  33. PMD says:

    I don’t necessarily think it will be easy Kyle. It’s a risk for sure, but IMO it’s a risk worth taking. And I don’t blame Milwaukee for going it alone. The rest of the state isn’t always very eager to help Milwaukee. I mean it was only like a year ago that Walker ran ads blasting Milwaukee.

  34. Kyle says:

    I think admitting that it’s going to cost more than $55 million was a smart move. And tying the TIF to projects already scheduled was also a really smart move. It gets a cushion of existing development projects that it will eventually take credit for. If it were my job to make the project succeed, I’d look for a steady supply of potential riders without cars. I’d have the engineering teams today do the planning for at least the UWM extension. And I’d start working on talks with UWM to provide students with “free” rides much like they already do for the bus. Those student fees, even at a discounted rate, would prop up the revenue numbers just in case they miss projections. Talk radio and Republicans are going to attack this, so having a built-in supply of development and paid riders will shield it from some of the talking points.

  35. PMD says:

    Good points Kyle. I agree getting as many stakeholders on board as possible is really important. I was just reading a little bit about the light rail system in Salt Lake City, and someone involved with that project noted the importance of getting broad support among stakeholders.

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