Lawmakers are trying to break the barriers facing the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail project by removing the need for Racine and Kenosha counties to approve new taxes.
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said a regional transit authority amendment released Wednesday is intended to let Wisconsin apply for federal KRM construction money by 2011. The problem that has held up earlier drafts of the RTA bill, he said, is opposition to new taxes in Racine and Kenosha counties to pay for local bus system improvements.
Without better bus systems in those counties, the federal government will not award grants to pay for the $232.7 million KRM project, Mason said. The new RTA bill solves the problem by telling the state to give Racine and Kenosha counties $2.5 million for buses. The money would come from the state’s local transit aid program.
Instead of raising new fees, the communities would be required to spend the same amount of money in future years as they do in 2010, plus an annual cost of living increase.
“For $5 million a year, it’s the last thing standing in the way of leveraging a quarter of a billion of federal train dollars,” Mason said.
The state has approved a Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority to plan the KRM project. Local authorities created in the three counties would eventually merge into the RTA and pool their money. Mason’s bill would require all of the counties merge under one RTA by January 2011.
The Southeastern Wisconsin RTA this year is drafting an application for federal money for the project, which will include track improvements, new passenger and service stations and new trains.
The draft bill is scheduled for a public hearing March 11.