The debate over creating a transit sales tax in southeastern Wisconsin will be shelved until next year, as could plans to apply for federal money for commuter rail in the region.
The Wisconsin Senate on Thursday disbanded without voting on a bill that would authorize regional transit authorities to pay for local buses and rail. The RTA bill would have let local governments in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties approve sales taxes to pay for buses.
“I think we’ll have to go back at it early next year as part of the budget process,” said Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the Gov. Jim Doyle’s appointee to the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority.
The RTA is pulling together plans for an estimated $232.7 million Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail project, which would repair track, stations and road crossings for a service between Milwaukee and Kenosha. The project would use local money raised by a fee on car rentals, but it also needs $140 million from the Federal Transit Administration.
Officials from the transit administration have said they will not look favorably on an application for commuter rail grants unless money is first dedicated to bus systems in the region, said Ken Yunker, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
Without any local authority to raise sales taxes for buses, the RTA members must decide whether to apply for federal KRM money, or wait until the Legislature approves an RTA law, Taylor said.
Yunker said the RTA can apply for the federal grant at any time.