Pro-transit groups, residents and car-rental companies are scrambling for the best argument for why someone else should pay for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee Commuter Link.
The Wisconsin Senate and Assembly versions of the state budget propose paying for the estimated $200 million project with a car-rental tax increase. Car-rental companies and pro-train groups oppose the tax increase, preferring a sales tax to raise the project money.
But a sales tax increase in Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee counties would incur the wrath of residents.
“We are definitely butting heads on that,” said Kandy Meyers, president of the Racine Taxpayers Association, which opposes any tax increase for the project. “But we just have to on this point.”
The Wisconsin Car Rental Alliance is threatening to sue the state if the car-rental fee increase stays in the budget. The tax would crush car-rental companies by scaring away customers, forcing the companies to hire fewer workers and buy fewer cars, said Dan Ewald, president and owner of Mayfair Rent-A-Car, which has 10 stores in southeastern Wisconsin.
“We’ve been put in a position now where, quite frankly, the industry is going to have to be quite aggressive on this,” Ewald said. “Frankly, we’re just not seeing much cooperation on this from Madison.”
The Coalition for Advancing Transit, on the other hand, would settle for the car-rental tax but prefers the sales tax increase to pay for the KRM project, said Kristi Luzar, program manager for the Urban Economic Development Association of Wisconsin Inc., a Milwaukee-based member of the coalition.
“Right now it’s tricky,” she said, “because we want to still be engaged in the process, and you don’t want to create such an anti-whatever stance that you can’t really advocate for anything.”
Ewald and Luzar agreed the sales tax would be a steadier source of money than car rentals. That, in turn, would improve the region’s chance to get federal money to help pay for the project.
The transit coalition this week will send out an alert to members asking them to contact legislators to lobby in favor of the sales tax, Luzar said.
Meanwhile, groups such as Meyers’ taxpayers association will keep pushing for the KRM to use only private money.
“It’s not that we completely disagree with having a train or anything,” Meyers said. “Our group’s purpose is to take the hard line and make sure it makes fiscal sense.”
The Coalition for Advancing Transit has not approached the Wisconsin Car Rental Alliance to team up in a push for a sales tax, Luzar said. Although there may be other groups that would stamp their feet against a sales tax increase, organizations such as the transit coalition or car rental alliance can make their voices stand out, she said.
“I think you could have just as big of a politically charged fight with the rental-car fee, too,” Luzar said, “just because it’s such a small population you are targeting.”