Wednesday, December 2, 2015

WisGOP bill on Milwaukee streetcar stupid and unnecessary

It never fails that Wisconsin Republicans beat up on the largest city in the state, especially when their fortunes are fading on almost every other issue. But this week's "bash Milwaukee" effort is not only repetitive and clearly based on nothing other than AM Radio posturing, but it's also a new level of stupid and pointless.
Republican state lawmakers are circulating a bill that would block state transportation money from being used to operate a Milwaukee streetcar.

Three legislators — Reps. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum), Romaine Quinn (R-Rice Lake) and Cody Horlacher (R-Mukwonago) — announced the proposal Tuesday in an email seeking co-sponsors for the measure.

"I am proud to support economic development and growth in the City of Milwaukee, and many of us did just that through our challenging Bucks arena vote earlier this year," Kremer said in a statement. "The state transportation fund and rural, mass-transit issues are major concerns for my constituents."
That mentality might have some validity.... if there were actually state tax dollars that were going to the streetcar project.
The city of Milwaukee already secured one such grant for operations. The $3.18 million awarded in April 2014 is federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement, or CMAQ, money. The money originated in the federal government and was passed to the state. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation oversees the awards of the CMAQ money.

Kremer said that kind of funding would not be affected by the proposed bill. It instead would prevent state transportation aid from going to the streetcar. Kremer said he does not believe Milwaukee officials planned to pursue those funds for the streetcar system.

"We just want to ensure that wouldn't happen in the future," he said. "Milwaukee is not planning on it, so I am being proactive."
Let me get this straight. No state money is set aside to operate or build the streetcar in this budget. No state money is set aside for it in the future, and it won't affect any federal grants that go to the bill. But Kremer wants to be a good 262 Republican and pass a bill trying to keep Milwaukeeans from using this form of transit sounds good on Charlie Sykes' show????

This is where I'll step back and explain how state transit funding works in Wisconsin. There are 4 tiers of transit system in the state that get assistance in helping to run their transit systems, as a method of .

1. Milwaukee County Transit System (the bus version)
2. Madison Metro Transit
3. All other systems in urbanized areas in the state (including those in suburbs of Madison and Milwaukee). The urbanized areas range in size from Beloit and Wausau up to Appleton and Green Bay, and every medium-sized Wisconsin city in between. This is termed Tier B by the state
4. All other transit systems in the state (aka non-urbanized areas). This is termed Tier C by the state.

And the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's information paper on mass transit funding gives a good explanation on how much money has gone to these systems and how that is determined. Milwaukee County and Madison Metro get a set-aside amount to help defray their costs in each budget, while each system in Tier B gets an equal % of their costs covered by the combined state and federal funding, and Tier C also gets an equal amount of their combined funding covered, usually at a higher percentage than the Tier B systems.

There is a statute that allows for a "light rail" tier, but it's never been funded, and Kenosha's streetcar is folded into their Tier B bus system. Since the City of Milwaukee would be operating their streetcar separate from MCTS, they couldn't use MCTS money, and if the "light rail" tier was never funded, then it couldn't be a source to pay for streetcar operations either. All other transit funding would be decided in future budgets, with different legislators, and with no set-aside funds for the streetcar, all that would have to be done would be to continue funding the same 4 tiers in the 2017-19 budget that are currently funded.

The only possible thing any new legislation could do is to clarify that the Milwaukee streetcar couldn't follow under Tier B (as a separate, urbanized system), but that has no relevance for this biennium, since the streetcar wouldn't even start operations until the next budget, and may not even qualify for state aid at that time anyway.

Then again, maybe the three GOPs trying to stick it to Milwaukee are simply trying to protect the pork for their "self-reliant", right-wing communities. Take a look at how much state transit aid went to the areas Reps. Kremer, Horlacher and Quinn are taking in 2014 (taken from the LFB paper).

2014 state transit aid funding
Kremer district
Washington County Transit $1,112,881
City of Hartford $55,807

Horlacher district
Waukesha Co. Metro Transit $4,174,290
City of Fort Atkinson $102,079
City of Jefferson $32,465

Quinn district
City of Rice Lake $29,056
Namekagon Transit (Sawyer/Barron County, LCO Tribe) $276,036

Extra props go to Rep. Quinn for taking such a keen interest in Milwaukee's Transit System, especially since Rice Lake shared-ride taxi program was the most costly and inefficient in the state during his tenure as the college-aged mayor of the town in the early 2010s, as noted in the DOT's review of all transit systems in the state.

The City folks quoted in today's articles rightfully laughed them off and said the project is going to be built and operational in 3 years, since they're not taking any state money to do it anyway. And maybe these GOP legislators should realize how much the constituents in their districts rely on a transit system and the state funding that comes with it, before they start their bashing of other cities that recognize the value of transportation alternatives, and wish to invest in it on their own time and money.

Of course, if these state reps want to allow Milwaukee to raise its own revenues for transit through a new sales tax (as Milwaukee County voters approved of in 2008), and not have to rely as much on state funding for the bus system as well, then I think a deal can be worked out. C'mon GOPs! Let's play ball.

Oh wait, that's a real solution that encourages local control, and when it comes to allowing the City of Milwaukee to move ahead on its own terms, that's simply something today's Wisconsin GOP will not stand for.


  1. Also loved Kremer's neat trick of painting federal funds as somehow all coming from Wisconsinites:
    "State taxpayers have already helped to contribute over $69 million in federal tax dollars ($54.9 million in stimulus and $14.2 million in additional federal grants this year) to move forward with the project."

    Yes, WI taxpayers helped by contributing a whopping 1.6% of that $69 million.

    Also, not entirely unrelated, from Rep. Quinn's campaign website:
    Local control means local control all of the time, not just times when it is politically convenient. As your next State representative, I will work hard to put our communities on a path of independence from state and federal influences.... I will work to return decision-making power to the local level.

  2. Nice catches there. Kramer and Quinn are such self-absorbed twits that I don't know if they realize how dumb they sound, or if they just think their constituents are so dumb they won't notice.

  3. It's in their DNA to oppose public transportation projects. The fossil fuel industry just hates it.