Two Wisconsin lawmakers are joining the fight to delay preliminary engineering work for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail project.
State Reps. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, and Robin Vos, R-Racine, sent a letter to the Federal Transit Administration asking that it deny the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority‘s application to begin preliminary engineering on the estimated $232.7 million rail project.
“It makes no sense to me,” Vos said Monday. “We should fix transportation first before assuming the state is going to pony up all this money for the project and before we know where the Legislature is going to go on the issue.”
The Legislature in the last session failed to pass a law that would have let the RTA raise a half-cent sales tax to pay for local public transit.
Vos said if a Democrat-controlled Legislature could not muster the votes to pass the sales tax increase, it would be even less likely if Republicans gain control of the governor’s office, Senate or Assembly after the November elections.
Ken Yunker, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, said the RTA’s application will be filed this week.
The application will include a similar letter from Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Michael Mayo and Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway requesting rejection until the state approves a transit financing source.
The lawmakers’ letter to the FTA does not help the case for the project, said RTA Chairman Karl Ostby. But he said it’s important to keep the project moving forward.
Ostby said he does not know how much work the RTA can do without a state-approved sales tax increase.
“I guess we’re going to find out,” he said.
If the FTA approves the application, the RTA could use up to $6 million in federal money to pay for 80 percent of the engineering costs.
But lawmakers need to do their jobs and commit to approving or rejecting the sales tax increase before any engineering work begins, Vos said.
“I don’t want to waste any resources,” he said. “Why not make sure we’re definitely going forward with this before we spend one taxpayer nickel?”