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RTA plan divides, then unites counties

Sean Ryan

The early draft (PDF) of a plan to break the impasse over a southeastern Wisconsin transit system threatens to multiply the squabbles by setting up separate authorities and forcing them to unite.

Still, some officials in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties said the complicated plan may offer the best chance for success.

Representatives from Gov. Jim Doyle’s office on Wednesday outlined the plan to elected officials and people interested in southeastern Wisconsin bus and rail projects during the Wisconsin Urban & Rural Transit Association Fall Legislative Day. Doyle had announced the plan in early September.

“I think what they’re trying to do with this is put out a smorgasbord of options,” said Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

The draft plan would give the three counties six years to create separate transit authorities and combine them. Each authority would collect local taxes to pay for transit buses. Meanwhile, an authority covering all three counties could continue planning the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail project. The regional authority could also give grants of up to $5 million to the local authorities to help pay for buses.

The plan, expected to be refined as legislators and local groups suggest changes, has many variables, said Kerry Thomas, executive director of Transit Now, also known as the Southeastern Wisconsin Coalition for Transit. But Thomas, who has been lobbying for a southeastern Wisconsin regional transit authority since 2001, said the complicated approach could work.

“If we just keep pushing for something that is the perfect solution, we may not get anything,” she said.

The plan lets each county create an authority to collect taxes and coordinate transit projects.

Three options are outlined to pay for transit projects — a 0.5 percent sales tax, a vehicle-registration fee increase or an $18 tax on car rentals. Each new tax would require approval by referendum.

County elected officials and legislators in Racine County oppose a sales tax. But people in the city of Kenosha would never accept a car-rental fee increase, said Mayor Keith Bosman, so a sales tax is the best option.

The legislation does more to draft a series of tasks to create a regional authority than to actually create one, Bosman said. However, he agreed it’s still a better approach than trying to get agreement now among all three counties.

“I think it’s doable if they finally agree on some kind of legislation,” Bosman said. “Obviously, the referendum may make it more difficult if each community has to pass referenda. But I don’t see any other way around it. There are too many political agendas that have to be put together on this.”

One comment

  1. OK…so here are our three options:
    1- Increase taxes
    2-increase taxes
    3-Increase taxes

    Way to be creative!

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