Republican members of the state’s budget writing committee voted to dismantle Wisconsin regional transit authority systems Wednesday, a move that went against the governor’s proposal and upset local officials in Dane County.
RTAs are public bodies run by a board of directors with the duty of operating or contracting a transit system. Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal would have required RTAs seeking to raise sales or use tax revenue to hold a referendum in their jurisdictional area.
However, the JFC co-chairs made a motion that would not only negate Walker’s recommendation, but also repeal the provision within the last biennial budget that created RTAs.
The motion passed along party lines, 12-4, with Democrats sharply criticizing the move.
JFC member Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, whose district hosts part of the Southeastern transit authority, told her colleagues transit authorities would have spurred job growth and would show governmental concern for the layman.
“If we don’t make the choice to help people get to work and to join the current century, you know we’ve already become a national embarrassment by turning away $800 million,” Grigsby said. “By keeping these systems it would show we’re not just paying attention to road builders and campaign contributors but to regular people.”
Grigsby made her own motion, but it was blocked along party lines.
Former Gov. Jim Doyle’s 2009 budget created four RTAs with the power to raise sales taxes within their jurisdiction. One authority was located in Dane County. Local officials said Wednesday they were concerned with the JFC Republicans’ votes.
“The first reaction was disappointment – the majority in charge voted to dismantle the RTA and we saw it as a crucial economic development tool for Dane County and other local governments across the state,” County Executive Joe Parisi’s spokesperson Casey Becker said. “We had rural leaders on board, the county executive, chair of the Wisconsin towns association, chamber of commerce, the governor all on board.”
Becker called that support, which crossed partisan lines, “unique”.
The Dane County transit authority would have expanded the current metro system so buses could drive to surrounding cities like Verona and Waunakee, but if the JFC’s repeal goes through the Legislature, buses will continue to only service nearby Madison alreas like Monona and McFarland.
Mayor Paul Soglin shared Parsi’s feelings, although he said he was not a supporter of the transit authority model.
“As someone who has serious reservations on the structure of the authority, I’m very disappointed in what [the JFC] did,” Soglin said.
Soglin’s initial concern with the authority structure, he said, was that he did not support a government structure that had the power to tax but did not have public representation of elected officials.
He said he agreed with Walker’s proposal to require authorities to hold a referendum to gauge public support for raising taxes, and thought the JFC members should have passed corrective legislation.
Walker’s spokesperson Cullen Werwie did not comment about the governor’s stance on the JFC’s move, but said in an email to The Badger Herald that Walker “would review the final version of this provision” once it arrives on his desk.