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RTAs approved for southeast Wisconsin, Dane County

Sean Ryan
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Southeast Wisconsin and Dane County would be able to raise taxes to pay for transit projects under a Friday morning vote by the state Joint Committee on Finance.

But the committee rejected creating a Fox Valley Regional Transit Authority and did not vote to allow new RTAs in other areas of the state.

Larry Delo, De Pere city administrator, said the city might be able to afford a bus system in 2013 without an RTA. Without buses, the city would have a tougher time attracting projects, he said.

“There are some, probably inadvertent, impacts to the decision to not allow a regional transit authority,” Delo said. “I’m not saying it will happen, but it could potentially have a negative impact on our ability to keep economic development moving forward.”

De Pere is trying to woo Humana Inc. to expand its building in the city instead of building elsewhere, he said, and the bus system is a strong tool in attracting the Humana project and others. But the city expects to lose its federal transit money in 2013 and cannot afford to fill the gap, he said.

Although the finance committee left De Pere without RTA prospects, the legislative panel approved plans to create an RTA (PDF) to pay for the estimated $200 million Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail project. On a 12-4 vote, the committee allowed a $16 car rental tax to pay for the project.

Roger Carons, president of the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce, said the KRM project will connect Racine to Milwaukee and Chicago with commuter rail. Beyond the development of more shops and other commercial ventures around the stations, the passenger rail will be another way to lure more companies to move into the area.

“I don’t think you could say that a panacea of companies coming to Racine would be commuter rail,” he said.

“But it’s one of many aspects that would get a company to look at Racine.”

The committee voted to create a transit authority (PDF) that could levy an up to 1 percent sales tax in Milwaukee County to pay for transit, parks and cultural activities. However, 15 percent of the money raised by the Milwaukee County tax must go to the city of Milwaukee rather than county government.

The committee also voted (PDF) to let Dane County levy a half-cent sales tax to pay for transit projects. But the panel required the county to hold a nonbinding referendum before creating the tax.

Web link: RTA budget documents

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