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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Regional Transit Authority stuck in transit funding tangle

From an article by Larry Sandler in the Milwaukee Jounral Sentinel:

The Milwaukee area's newest government body started work this week with the realization that it doesn't have the power to accomplish its only mission.

In essence, the members of the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority were told that the state had put them in an impossible position, and only the state can get them out of it.

The 2009-'11 state budget created the new RTA to oversee the planned KRM Commuter Link rail line. It did not give the new body any power to fund or coordinate local bus systems.

Yet Federal Transit Administration officials have said they won't approve the $207.5 million commuter railroad until the financial problems of the Milwaukee County Transit System and its Racine and Kenosha counterparts are solved, Ken Yunker, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, told RTA members.

Therefore, the RTA and the KRM will be doomed to fail without additional help from Madison, said Milwaukee County Supervisor Michael Mayo, an RTA member.

Lawmakers are working with Gov. Jim Doyle to draft new legislation that would create more transit authorities with the power to levy various taxes to support the bus systems, said Dan Kanninen, Doyle's legislative director. Kanninen said the bill could be introduced by the end of the year, for action when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

This isn't what Doyle wanted, Kanninen stressed. In his recommended budget, the governor proposed a single body that would oversee both the KRM and public buses in Milwaukee, Kenosha and eastern Racine counties, funded by a 0.5% sales tax.

But legislators shot down that idea in the face of heavy sales tax opposition from Racine County.

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