Jeramey Jannene

Bob vs Bob (Almost)

We reached out to Aldermen Bob Bauman and Bob Donovan to get their perspective on the Milwaukee Streetcar project following the press conference "debate"

By - May 19th, 2012 09:47 am
Bob Bauman vs Bob Donovan

Bob Bauman vs Bob Donovan

We reached out to Aldermen Bob Bauman and Bob Donovan to get their perspective on the Milwaukee Streetcar project following the press conference “debate”. We offered each alderman a 600 to 1000 word position piece on the streetcar project.

Alderman Bauman responded with his piece, which is included below. Alderman Donovan’s office never replied directly to our initial request, but Donovan’s aide Patty Doherty did leave a comment on the press conference article ending with “And that is the concise version of the 600-1000 words you requested.”

Alderman Robert Bauman on the Milwaukee Streetcar

Forward or Backward?

On July 26 of last year, the Common Council voted 10 to 5 to approve a 3.6 mile downtown streetcar line and approved $9.7 Million in tax incremental financing to match the $54.9 Million in federal transit funds to finance construction of the initial $64.5 Million, 2 mile segment of that 3.6 mile line (file #110324). Leading up to this debate, council members heard from many constituents including 36 witnesses at a public hearing (34 testified in favor and two testified in opposition), 163 letters of support from individuals and businesses and hundreds of email and phone communications that ran approximately 2 to 1 in favor of the streetcar. The council approved the streetcar for three basic reasons: job creation, economic development and improved mobility and connectivity.

First, this $64.2 Million public works investment would create hundreds of direct and indirect construction jobs and would create dozens of permanent jobs for operations and maintenance. Second, this investment would promote downtown economic development and increase the downtown tax base which would support basic city services throughout Milwaukee. Third, this new transit service in downtown and nearby neighborhoods would offer an entirely new transportation option for downtown workers, residents, shoppers, students, visitors, tourists and patrons of downtown bars, restaurants and sports, entertainment and cultural venues.

The streetcar was designed to supplement, not replace, existing bus service to and through downtown and to connect the refurbished Intermodal/Amtrak Station with the many downtown business, entertainment and cultural destinations as well as downtown residential areas and nearby residential neighborhoods. The streetcar corridor would serve 100% of downtown hotel rooms, 91% of first floor commercial & retail space, 90% of occupied office space and 77% of downtown residential units. In sum, last year’s council action represented a significant step forward toward the goal of establishing a modern, 21st Century transit system throughout Milwaukee on par with all large and most mid-sized cities in the United States which have built or are building urban rail systems.

Nevertheless, there are some who want to stop progress and move us backwards. One argument is that the $54.9 Million in federal transit funds should be used for some other purpose. Various suggestions are offered such as subsidizing the existing bus system, filling pot holes, repaving local streets, rebuilding highways, or buying new buses. While each one of these uses represent a significant public need, the council determined back in July, 2011 that the $54.9 Million of federal transit funds could not be used for any purpose other than the construction of a downtown streetcar line based on a communication from the administrator of the Federal Transit Administration and advice from Milwaukee’s congressional delegation. In fact we were told that some of these suggested uses such as filing pot holes and repaving local streets were not and never have been eligible for any type of federal funding much less specifically appropriated transit funds.

The council determined that the choice was to move forward with a downtown streetcar line or send the money back to the federal government for reprogramming as a grant to another city building or planning new rail transit lines. In essence, the choice was between job creation, economic development and improved mobility and connectivity in Milwaukee or job creation, economic development and improved mobility in St. Louis, Salt Lake City or some other city. Based on this choice and the potential benefits of this investment in Milwaukee, a solid majority of council members voted to move forward instead of backward.

Another argument to stop progress and move us backward is that the streetcar will not “pay for itself”. Again, the council considered this argument at length and concluded first, that no public transit or rail system in the world “pays for itself”; second, that public transit is a public service just like police or fire protection which also do not “pay for themselves”; and third, in the case of the streetcar, it would pay for itself based on a clause in the legislation approving the project that stated that incremental property tax revenue generated by new development in the streetcar corridor had to exceed any public funds used for streetcar operations. Based on this analysis a solid majority voted to approve the streetcar.

Finally the advocates of moving us backward continually call for a referendum. Once again the council considered this question back on July 26, 2011. A resolution was offered to hold a referendum. It was defeated on a vote of 12 to 3.

However, since then we had a referendum. It is called an election. On April 3, 2012 nine of the 10 council members who voted for the streetcar project and the mayor were returned to office by overwhelming margins.

During last year’s streetcar debate, council members were well aware that a negative vote was the politically safe decision. Nevertheless, after considering the arguments for and against, a solid majority voted for the project because in the end they wanted to move this city forward.

Robert J. Bauman
Alderman, 4th District

Alderman Robert Donovan’s office on the Milwaukee Streetcar

Ald. Donovan did pose this [ed: a referendum] to the Common Council. It was voted down ONLY when an alternative proposal was introduced. The alternative proposal stated that not one cent will be spent on the Milwaukee Streetcar until a complete cost report is prepared by the Comptroller’s office and presented to the Council.

If the report comes back stating that the project will exceed $64 million, it is very likely that this item will go back to the Council floor to be rehashed. For Ald. Bauman to state that this has already been voted on and that’s the end is very misleading.

The Comptroller’s office is waiting for a decision from the State regarding who is responsible for the cost of moving the utilities. If it is decided that the City of Milwaukee has to pay for this, the project will be presented to the Council as “fiscally unfeasible”. At that point, changes can be made to the plan in order to bring the cost back down to $64 million. Once the cost of moving the utilities is factored in, this will be an impossible task.

If the decision from the State comes back in favoring the City over the utilities regarding the cost of moving the lines, the utilities will then publicly announce the total cost and state that they will recoup those costs from their customers – and not just the ones in the City of Milwaukee. 5 Council Members strongly support this project and 5 are opposed. Let’s see how the 5 in the middle vote once the Comptroller’s cost report comes back.

As for reallocating the funds, Governor Thompson had no problem getting this done after the original project for this grant fizzled out. After working out an agreement with the Mayor and County Executive from our area at that time, he petitioned the change at the Federal level and got it. For those of you who don’t know, the streetcar proposal was NOT what this money was originally allocated for.

And that is the concise version of the 600-1000 words you requested.

Patty Doherty



2 thoughts on “Bob vs Bob (Almost)”

  1. Jeff Jordan says:

    You always have to take breath when Donovan pontificates or you may find yourself using words like “pontificate’ when describing his rhetoric. Than again it’s because you have two viewpoints that are literally at two ends of the spectrum on this issue and, in my case, you like one and dislike the other.
    Donovan’s slam that Tommy would know how to reallocate the money is just a bit to much like a wish you might regret if you ever had it granted. Flash forward, Walker negotiates with the Fed’s (This is an oxymoron on the face of it.) What do we get Bob? The re-installation of the Park East? Or maybe the extension of I-794 all the way to the Illinois Border?
    Now possibly to Donovan supporters, these suggestions sound good. but to anyone who is truly interested in the progress and revitalization of Southeastern Wisconsin, not so much.
    Investing in an important element in an integrated urban transportation scheme is the kind of thing progressive cities all over the globe are doing, Alderman Donovan. Trust me after it’s up and running, like Seattle, like Minneapolis, your constituents will want a piece of the action. Caution here: The bigger the Crow the tougher it is to eat.

  2. Lionel Stansyck says:

    Man, it’s sad how powerful the goon squad is these days in Wisconsin. I’m very worried that if Walker survives the recall he’ll find his own way to crush the streetcar, just like he killed rail to Madison. Bad times my friends!

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