Monday, March 11, 2013

Abele Vs. The County Board: Transit

During Scott Walker's regime as Milwaukee County Executive, the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) had been slowly demolished.  Under Walker's watch, transit services have been cut by 20% and fares have increased dramatically, becoming one of the highest in the nation.

In 2008, recognizing that further degradation of the transit system would make it soon unable to continue, a referendum was introduced which would have created a one cent sales tax as a dedicated funding source for MCTS as well as the parks system and the emergency medical system.  The referendum passed, but Governor Doyle fumbled the ball and failed to get the job done.

In 2011, it was clearly spelled out what the severe cuts to the transit system would mean, including lost jobs, damage to our frail local economy and the loss of independence for many people.

Current Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele's plan to address this growing crisis was to simply ask now Governor Scott Walker for more money.

Abele's plan is not working out too well. In Walker's first budget, the funding for MCTS got cut by $7 million.  In the current budget proposal, Walker is taking transit funding out of the transportation fund and putting it in general fund, where it will have to compete with police, fire, education and a myriad of other services.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Michael Mayo recently issued a press release warning of the growing crisis:
Supervisor Michael Mayo, Sr., District 7, is calling on Milwaukee County residents to contact their state representatives and senators to demand changes to the way Milwaukee County Transit services are funded in the state budget.

“There must be dedicated funding – it’s just that simple,” said Supervisor Mayo. “Governor Walker talks about job creation but what company would be willing to put down roots in Milwaukee County – or any part of Wisconsin – without having a viable public transportation system to move people to jobs.”

As the budget is currently proposed, transit is not part of the transportation area; instead, in the second year of the budget, transit is part of the General Fund, which must cover costs of big-ticket items, ranging from public education to the justice system.

“Under the proposed structure, Milwaukee County and more than 70 other public transportation systems throughout the state – along with schools and courts – would have to complete for dollars, so we need to have dedicated funding for transit,” explained Supervisor Mayo. “Also, I’d like Governor Walker to explain why roads are the only transportation-related item not in the General Fund.”

The second year of the proposed state budget provides no annual inflationary increase for the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS), despite the fact that operating costs, such as those for gasoline, electricity and natural gas, have risen.

According to MCTS analysis, funding MCTS’ current level of service into 2014 presents a significant challenge.

“I commend MCTS Director Lloyd Grant for his commitment to working with the hand he’s been dealt,” said Supervisor Mayo. “He’s controlling costs to avoid cuts in service and/or fare increases.”

Currently, the MCTS adult cash fare of $2.25 is one of the highest in the nation.

Even the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial board concurs in its piece from March 4, 2013: “On transportation, the state has provided insufficient funds for transit or local road maintenance and even removed the ability for local governments to form regional transportation authorities …”
Mayo wasn't done there.

He also wrote a blog post for, arguing that that instead of worrying about a sales tax to support a new arena, something that Abele favors, it should go to transit, something Abele opposes:
Not saving our transit system with a sales tax would lead to mandatory cuts of 20 to 30 percent across the board, resulting in fewer routes, fewer drivers, diminished service and fewer critically needed connections to jobs.

While transit funding is large and complex, key elements contribute to the current transit crisis.

First, we lack a dedicated funding source for transit. In a 2008 advisory referendum, 52 percent of Milwaukee County voters said “yes” to a transit tax, but the state of Wisconsin will not allow the county to execute it. (Ironically, as of Feb. 4, 2013, 52 percent of respondents to the informal poll I cited at the beginning of this blog voted “no” on a sales tax for a new arena.)

Second, state funding has not kept pace with inflation and rising fuel costs. Milwaukee County has had to spend down $40 million in federal capital funding during the past several years for operating costs. We need restoration of the 10 percent reduction in state mass transit operating assistance and the provision of an additional three percent cost-of-living adjustment in the next state budget.

There is no more time to wait. Our mantra must be “Bucks and Buses.” It’s time to steer desperately needed resources for the benefit of all of Milwaukee County, not just for the sake of professional athletes.
As the County Board of Supervisors are about to launch a series of listening sessions regarding future reformation of Milwaukee County government, this is important to keep in mind.

On one hand, you have supervisors reaching out for a very viable solution to the transit funding issue.  Not only would it save transit, but it would lower property taxes by that much.

On the other hand, you have Abele, who claims he was going to ask Walker for more funding.  Instead, he's squandered whatever little political capital he had to get an unwanted and unnecessary comptroller.  Now, he is burning up whatever clout he had left by trying to convince legislators and the governor's office to pass a bill that would consolidate all the power in Milwaukee County in Abele's hand and disenfranchise the voters.

Instead of getting on board with saving the buses, he'd just rather throw us all under them.

Now, who do you really think is on our side?

1 comment:

  1. I thought that was Scott Walker in the open bus. Man, I can't trust this blog. They are about as corrupt as Obama. The Secret Service closed the White house? Liars, all of you.

    I suppose this blog believes it was a video that prompted the 9/11/13 attack on Benghazi. I wouldn't be surprized...