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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Another step backward on jobs and energy independence

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Pay attention to this number.

$4.39.

That was the price of regular unleaded gasoline at a station on Milwaukee's south side on Tuesday. It's a number that's likely to rise. It's also a number that Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature are so far ignoring as they put together a budget that does much for roads and highway funding but threatens to gut public transit systems across the state.

On Tuesday, the Legislature's budget committee took another step backward on transit when it voted to repeal authority for four regional transit authorities created in 2009. One of those would have been responsible for a commuter rail line connecting Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee.

Keep in mind that Walker's budget also cuts aid to transit by 10%, moves transit aid from the state transportation fund to the general revenue budget and bars municipalities from raising taxes to make up for the loss in aid. By repealing the RTAs, the budget also removes another tool - a cooperative one - that local communities could have used to help them deal with the loss of funding.

The committee also voted to eliminate a $100 million bonding program for capital transit projects in southeastern Wisconsin and to eliminate all state funding - $5 million over two years - for bike and pedestrian paths.

Why does this matter? Several reasons, but let's talk about just two.

First, there are people without cars who rely on transit to get them to jobs, appointments, shopping and friends. Some can't afford a vehicle; others prefer not to have one. Having a car should not be a requirement for living in urban areas such as Milwaukee, Madison, Racine and Waukesha. Giving people options that include transit as well as good roads make those areas more attractive for economic development.

Second, as gas prices continue to rise, many commuters are looking for alternatives to driving to their jobs. In a recent informal and unscientific poll by the Editorial Board, a slight majority of respondents said that a $4-per-gallon price for gasoline would be enough to make them change their driving habits.

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