Regional transportation

People change buses on Jan. 19, 2016, at the Corinne Reid-Owens Transit Center in Racine. Some officials have suggested a regional transit authority as a means to help fund local public transportation.

MADISON — A legislative proposal by state Democrats is looking at the possibility of creating a Southeastern Regional Transit Authority to link Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties.

The legislation is sponsored by Democrats in the Senate and Assembly from the respective counties and revives a previous push to create transit authorities.

“The state’s southeastern corridor represents a major economic engine for Wisconsin’s business activity,” said state Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, whose district includes part of Racine County. “We have tremendous opportunities for continued growth on the horizon, but the key piece is our ability to connect our skilled workforce with the available job openings.”

According to a news release, the proposed legislation would allow an RTA to oversee transit services in Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee. It would also allow the RTA to acquire property, bond or implement a half-percent sales tax increase in the area to fund efforts.

For the RTA to be formed, the counties would “need to approve identical resolutions outlining the creation of the entity and local voters would need to approve the action by a referendum.”

This is the first piece of legislation that state Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, has gotten behind since being sworn in on Jan. 27. Neubauer was elected on Jan. 16 to complete the term of Cory Mason, who stepped down from the Legislature after being elected Racine's mayor.

“Our bill provides local authority to create greater regional transit cooperation and connectivity,” Neubauer said. “Mobility development is economic development, because not having a car cannot be a barrier to having a job.”

Public transportation options, Neubauer said, can decrease pollution and improve the quality of life for citizens.

“This is not a partisan issue and we can work together to make sure we have the solution that works for the needs of southeastern Wisconsin,” Neubauer said.

‘Strong opposition’ to RTA

In 2009, the state passed legislation to allow the creation of the RTAs in different communities, but in the 2011 biennial budget the initiative was eliminated and the RTAs created in Dane County, the Chippewa Valley in the Eau Claire area and Chequamegon Bay in the Ashhland area were dissolved.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he is not a supporter of the legislation.

“I just don’t think that we’re at a point where we need a brand new taxing authority with the ability to raise our taxes with very little public input,” Vos said. “The idea of having unelected folks raising our taxes and running transit, I’ve seen this happen before. I think it’s fair to say that Milwaukee County would end up having a disproportionate effect on what we’re paying and I just don’t support that.”

Although Vos is open to the idea of improving transportation infrastructure, he said transportation should be “a core mission of what the municipalities do now.”

“It’s important to make sure workers can get to jobs and people can get to the dentist or the doctor or wherever,” Vos said. “I think we have enough resources inside local governments.”

Vos does not anticipate a lot of support for the legislation in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“The first time (Democrats) tried to put this through, they were not successful, even when Democrats controlled everything,” Vos said. “There’s been such strong opposition to an idea like this, I can’t imagine it moving forward since I’ve had almost no one from my district say that they want to have unelected taxing authority.”

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Reporter

Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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