Jeramey Jannene

KRM and RTA Update

By - Jun 18th, 2009 11:56 am
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The Wisconsin state budget is now at a point where it will go to a conference committee after the Senate approved their version of the budget yesterday.  The conference committee will reconcile the difference between the Assembly and Senate versions, and send the budget off to Governor Jim Doyle.  Doyle will then use his line-item veto power on certain language he doesn’t like, and Wisconsin have a budget.a

The item of most interest to most Milwaukeeans, outside of income tax levels, is the proposed Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority.  We have created a chart to track the changes that have been made to the proposal, and included a more in-depth explanations into each step below.

RTA Board Governor’s Budget Joint Finance Assembly Senate Conference Committee Line-Item Veto
# of RTAS 1 1 2 2 1 ? ?
Sales Tax Amount Up-to 0.5% MKE, Racine, Kenosha for RTA Up- to 0.5% MKE, Racine, Kenosha for RTA 1.0% MKE Cty for MTA 0.65% MKE for MTA
1.0% MKE Cty for MKE Cty
? ?
Rental Car Tax 0 0 $16 for KRM $18 for KRM, Racine buses, Kenosha buses
$16 for KRM
? ?
Parks, Culture, EMS No No Yes No Yes ? ?
.15% Sales Tax Optional No Included in 1% for City of Milwaukee Included in .65% for Municipalities
Included in 1% for Municipalities
? ?

What will come out of the conference committee to merge the two budgets, we cannot guess.  In regards to stimulus funds, the amount of money for high-speed rail jumped up to $8 billion, from previous considerations of around $2 billion.  Conference committees are a bit unpredictable sometimes.  It looks like the KRM will get done, one way or another, and that a new sales tax is coming for Milwaukee County.

We’ll update you when we know more, but for now here is a look at how it got to the way it is.

RTA Board, Governor’s Budget Proposal

Governor Doyle stuck his neck out to include the recommendations of SEWISRTA in his original budget proposal.  Those recommendations, as a refresher, were up to a 0.5% sales tax to fund the KRM and transit services in Kenosha, Racine, and Milwaukee Counties and remove transit from the property tax.  Also included was the ability for municipalities to enact a .15% sales tax for public safety, which was included to gain the support of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.  When Doyle issued his recommendations, he removed Barrett’s 0.15% sales tax.

RTA Board Recommendations
Governor Doyle Budget Recommendation

Joint Finance Committee

The Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin State Legislature then took up the Governor’s proposed budget, and made their changes.  The Joint Finance Committee RTA changes were made in the middle of the night , with a number of Republicans (who hold the minority in both the Senate and Assembly) heading out to the bars while waiting for Democrats to finish caucasing behind closed doors.

When the meeting finally started, Senator Lena Taylor, Representatives Pedro Colon and Tamara Grigsby had helped turn the southeastern Wisconsin RTA in two RTAs.  One “regional” transit authority for Milwaukee County only, that was funded by a 1% sales tax, and was in charge of supporting transit, parks, EMS, and culture.  The amendment included no clear dividing lines between areas, so it wasn’t clear if Milwaukee County would have parks paved with gold or the best-staffed EMS department in the world.  Of that 1%, 15% would go directly to the City of Milwaukee, with no apparent restrictions on how it could be spent.  This was somewhat similar to the referendum that was narrowly approved by Milwaukee County voters on November 4th.

The second RTA created was the KRM authority, which would operate the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line.  The motion was sponsored by Senator John Lehman, Senator Lena Taylor, Representiave Cory Mason, and Representative Pedro Colon.  Instead of using the RTA board recommended, and Governor proposed .5% sales tax to fund both buses and the commuter rail line, the rail line was to be funded by a $16 rental car tax (per transaction).  A pork stop for Pedro Colon was included to have the train’s first stop out of the Intermodal Station be at East National Avenue (originally called West in the motion that was distributed), a mere mile out of the station.  A stop would make sense in such a location for a light-rail or streetcar vehicle, but not a heavy rail train.  Additionally, the make-up of the board was extremely partisan in nature, with the Milwaukee and Kenosha County Board Chairs appointing their county’s representative as the County Executives in each respective county is a Republican.  Racine County would have had their member appointed by the County Executive.  Bonding authority for the KRM was also reduced to $50 million.  The motion was approved on a party line vote, 12 aye, 4 no.

Representative Robin Vos (R) from Racine County proposed a motion to require a referendum be held in each county to approve the KRM and to exclude western Racine County from the rental car tax.  It was defeated on a party line vote, 4 aye, 12 no.  Vos also moved to amend the KRM authority to have county members of the authority appointed by the county executives.  This was again defeated on a party line vote.

Motion 218 – Southeast RTA
Motion 223 – KRM Authority
Motion 226 – KRM Authority
Motion 228 – KRM Authority

Wisconsin State Assembly

On June 10th, 2009, the Wisconsin State Assembly approved their version of the budget.  They approved a version of transit services more similar to what the Governor and RTA board had recommended than the Joint Finance Committee’s approval.  In brief, the Assembly approved a few key changes to the Joint Finance Committee motions.

  • Rename KRM authority SERTA (South Eastern Regional Transit Authority).  Designate it the only entity in Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha that can apply as an RTA to the FTA.
  • Rename the Milwaukee Regional Transit Authority the Milwaukee Transit Authority (MTA).
  • Authorize the Milwaukee County Board to assess a .65¢ sales tax for Milwaukee County. Mandate ½ ¢ has to go to the Milwaukee Transit Authority for transit.
  • If the sales tax is adopted, existing funding for transit must be removed from property tax levy.
  • Authorize the Milwaukee County Board to approve up to .15 percent (NOTE: Urban Milwaukee believes this should be cents, not percent, as that would be 9.75 cents as written) of the sales tax go to Milwaukee County municipalities prorated on a formula based on the number of police and fire employees within each municipality.
  • Increase the approved car rental tax to $18. Designate that $1 per vehicle from this vehicle rental tax will go to the City of Racine for the Belle Urban System & $1 per vehicle go to the City of Kenosha for the Kenosha Transit Authority to support their local transit systems. Each city will then be required to generate new funds to match new car rental tax revenues. The $1 for the respective cities will not be released by SERTA until the City of Racine and the City of Kenosha have demonstrated an established funding source to produce the matching funds.
  • Add a KRM stop in the City of Milwaukee at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Bay Street. (NOTE: This is a long-discussed stop in Representative Jon Richards district)
  • Include language specifying that municipalities in Racine and Kenosha Counties, outside of the cities of Racine & Kenosha, shall not have a KRM transit stop in those municipalities until they each provide for a sustainable mechanism to generate new funding to contribute to the Belle Urban System or the Kenosha Transit Authority.
  • Restore the language from Governor Doyle’s budget proposal to provide $100 million in bonding

The Assembly made adjustments to the KRM after key members met with members of Herb Kohl‘s staff and communicated with FTA officials to learn what it would take to get federal approval for the project (federal funds are key to the development of the KRM).

Full Assembly KRM Amendment

Wisconsin State Senate

The Wisconsin State Senate approved a budget closer to that of the Joint Finance Committee than the Assembly on June 18th, 2009.  In brief, their key changes included the following.

  • Delete the Milwaukee County Regional Transit Authority (RTA) proposed under the substitute amendment. Remove the reference to the Milwaukee County RTA as an eligible applicant under the southeast Wisconsin transit capital assistance program and, instead, make Milwaukee County an eligible applicant under that program.
  • Grant Milwaukee County the ability to enact an additional 1% sales tax for transit, parks, culture, and emergency medical services, and require the property tax levy be reducing by $67 million (NOTE: this would be about half of what the sales tax brings in).
  • Require Milwaukee County to distribute the other 15% of the new sales and use tax revenues to the municipalities in Milwaukee County. Require the municipalities to use these funds to support police, fire, and emergency medical services. Specify that the funds would be allocated among the municipalities in Milwaukee County on a per capita basis.
  • Rename the KRM Authority, as proposed in the substitute amendment, the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (SERTA). Modify the appointments to the SERTA board by specifying that the Kenosha County board chair, rather than the Kenosha County Executive, would appoint the Kenosha County member to the board. Specify that SERTA would be an eligible applicant for the southeastern Wisconsin transit capital assistance program that would be created under the substitute amendment. Require that the KRM commuter rail project include a stop in the City of Milwaukee at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Bay Street.

Full Senate Budget – Page 65 for RTA


6 thoughts on “KRM and RTA Update”

  1. Randy says:

    Sounds like a good deal to me. I’m glad to hear KRM will be happening! And what an asset to Bayview! Hopefully, this may spur more redevelopment of the area! And, less auto-dependent development!

  2. Nate Holton says:

    Thanks for the breakdown! The process has become convoluted and difficult to keep up with, a case study on State government.

  3. JCG says:

    I do wish they’d leave more of the route/stop design up to the transportation engineering experts, rather than doling out based on political constituencies. That type of stuff is just begging for the whole thing to fail, which in turn would do those political constituencies no good.

  4. Jeff Jordan says:

    Excellent and concise review of this ungainly process. We need to push to the governors original proposal. It was well thought out, organized and financed. Selling stops on the line for votes is ugly part of the process.

  5. Sonia Dubielzig says:

    Excellent summary! You’ve done a great public service by putting this piece together.

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