In a lamentable vote last week, state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, led the state’s Joint Finance Committee to vote 12-4 along party lines to do away with recently authorized regional transit authorities in southeastern Wisconsin and four other areas of the state.
It is a boneheaded and short-sighted maneuver that could well ring the death knell for commuter rail linking Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee and Chicago.
Unlike the high-speed rail proposed for Milwaukee to Madison by former Democratic Gov. James Doyle, KRM would connect a corridor of highly populated areas in the southeastern corner of the state. It would give businesses access to willing workers through the region, provide those workers with the means to get to jobs, give residents a car-free alternative to taking in the sights, recreational and entertainment offerings of Chicago and Milwaukee — and it would lessen the reliance on the Interstate highway system.
It was perhaps prophetic that the Vos-led vote last week came as gasoline pump prices roared well past $4 per gallon.
For good measure, the Joint Finance Committee also threw state funding for bike and pedestrian paths under the bus as well, eliminating $5 million in spending over the next two years.
Vos said the transit authorities were unpopular, unelected “abomominations” as he guided the vote for disbandonment.
Unlike during the Gov. Tommy Thompson era, in recent years Republicans have taken a Goldilocks and the Three Bears approach toward mass transit, complaining that plans — whatever plans — were too hot, too cold, too this, too that. The unelected “abomination” criticism from Vos that transit authorities would spend tax money, even though their boards were not elected, feeds into the recent rise in anti-taxing frenzy — including an advisory referendum in Racine County on “new taxes” for transit or rail that was defeated by a large margin.
In fact, Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget would have preserved transit authorities, but required a binding referendum before an authority could levy a tax.
That’s a more reasoned approach, one that would allow regions of the state to make the final decision on whether they see a mixed-transit system, using commuter trains and buses, as beneficial to their economic well-being and the vitality of their communities.
We urge Gov. Walker to veto the actions of the Joint Finance Committee, and to allow areas of the state that want to work together to provide a balanced transportation system for their residents and businesses to do so.