Ted Bobrow

It’s time this train left the station

By - Mar 10th, 2010 04:00 am
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Photo Courtesy Dave Reid

Photo Courtesy Dave Reid

Once again, the state legislature is taking up a bill to restructure the funding mechanism for mass transportation in southeastern Wisconsin. And once again it seems like our elected officials are tripping over each other to derail the effort.

The recent history is not pretty. While our roads have been generously funded going back to the Eisenhower administration, local bus systems have been treated like poor cousins who have to beg for table scraps.

The Milwaukee County Transit System, with its service cutbacks and fare increases, is the most obvious example of the funding shortfall, but Racine and Kenosha have similar stories to tell.

Back in November 2008, the people of Milwaukee County passed a referendum in favor of a 1 percent increase in the sales tax that would support mass transit, parks and emergency services. It seemed to send the message that the people understood that dedicated funding was essential to ensuring that public needs are met. The referendum was structured as a form of property tax relief, and the state legislature added the measure to its proposed state budget in 2009 – but Governor Doyle took out the provision arguing that mass transportation required a regional response.

Doyle, along with a broad coalition of business, labor leaders and other community partners have joined together in support of the current proposal to add .5 percent to the region’s sales tax and establish transit authorities to coordinate how the money is spent.

Yet the bill’s outcome remains in doubt, partly because many politicians are loathe to vote in favor of anything that resembles a tax increase.

It seems like a bit of an overstatement to call an obvious vote for a much-needed rational approach to southeastern Wisconsin’s mass transit a “Profile in Courage.” Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that failure to vote for the bill would be a “Profile in Cowardice.”

To be fair, there are always details in bills this complex that legislators of conscience may disagree over. But people who rely on bus service aren’t served by more delays, especially when those delays lead to more service cutbacks and even more fare increases. But it’s time for the state legislature to show its support for mass transportation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Categories: Commentary, Gray Matter

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