UPDATE on State Budget Process & Joint Finance Committee Vote

A HUGE thank you for your efforts in advancing a permanent Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and dedicated funding for transit in SE WI! The active support of a remarkably broad and diverse coalition of transit advocates has kept this issue moving forward in the state budget process.

If you have not yet heard, very early on the morning of May 1, 2008, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) of the state legislature took a positive step in creating jobs and economic growth in Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha. Although this outcome is a step forward in many respects, the local versus regional approach, the alternative KRM funding source, and the missing property tax relief are disappointing. Crucial improvements are needed to strengthen the RTA proposals. To read coverage of this vote, visit these article links from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s coverage over the past few days:
• “Finance Panel backs transit board, sales tax”: http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/44125027.html

• “Regional Transit Authority: Legislative Hash”: http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/44195312.html

• “Transit plans could see even more changes”: http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/44272032.html

Other local and regional papers covered this vote as well. As complex as some of this may seem, the Joint Finance Committee decisions do, however, give us a foundation to keep moving forward. We can build on this outcome so that we can gain solutions that will address the urgent financial needs of our struggling transit systems, provide integrated regional transit connections, and ensure that we have a strong funding source that will not compromise the these systems. The Finance Committee voted to form two RTA’s in SE Wisconsin:

1. KRM RTA: For the single purpose of building and operating KRM Commuter Rail. The KRM RTA would encompass the counties of Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha and be funded by a rental car fee.

2. Milwaukee County RTA: To fund and operate Milwaukee County’s local transit, parks and culture, emergency services, and safety in the city of Milwaukee and would be supported by a 1% sales tax in Milwaukee County. This could ensure that MCTS is able to address the severe budget shortfalls and required capital improvements needed after this fiscal year.

Legislators worked through a 13-hour negotiating marathon to move these proposals forward. Racine and Milwaukee legislators forged a promising new alliance and were vocal transit champions. Rep. Pedro Colon (Milwaukee) said “We are going to grow our cities and we are going to grow our economy; we are not going to let you keep us in the dark ages.”

Throughout this week transit coalition partners will be investigating the many opportunities and options to strengthen these new proposals. The Coalition for Advancing Transit (C.A.T.) remains committed to our 4 Transit Principles (http://transitmatters.blogspot.com) that many of you have signed on in support of. We believe that a strong, regional inter-modal transit system that is supported through a dedicated, stable funding source is critical to the economic health and growth of SE WI.

Please let us know your thoughts (kristi@uedawi.org or kthomas@transitnow.org) and stay tuned for next steps! We plan to bring the full Coalition together by early June to bring you up to speed on where we go from here.  As far as the legislative process is concerned, the next steps are:
• In late May and June the Assembly and then the Senate will address the RTA proposals in the state budget.
• In late June or early July the Governor will sign or veto the plans that are in the budget that he receives from the Senate.

Lastly, Wisconsin Transit Week will be celebrated May 18-24!
Visit http://www.tdawisconsin.org/transit_week.iml for information on all the events and activities being planned. We will let you know of things coming up specifically in this area that you can be a part of as well.

We encourage you to keep talking about this issue with your friends, colleagues and neighbors. Feel free to forward them this information or links to the C.A.T. website. If you would like more information, talking points, fact sheets on key parts of this issue, etc. feel free to contact me directly or visit our Group site at http://groups.google.com/group/coalition-for-advancing-transit where you can access many of these things on the “Files” page.

We’ve made progress and momentum is strong! Citizens and leaders alike will need to continue to be focused and stay actively engaged to reach the best possible outcome this summer. Once again, we thank you all for the hard work and support that you have shown and continue to show for this issue.

Thanks again for your support. We are getting there!!!
Let’s Get Moving!