Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Most people can get on board with this county budget item

Politics, Transportation

As we sat in the  Milwaukee County Finance and Audit Committee meeting today, the intern turned and asked me "Aren't they supposed to be listening?"

She'd never been to a county committee meeting before, and I think she was both fascinated and horrified. There were long periods of dull and mostly inaudible reports followed by a stretch of great political theater. That was the part for which we had come.

"These meetings go on all day," I said, trying to be charitable. "Sometimes they just check out for awhile." "They" were the county supervisors on the committee. Another disinterested group was the men reading Wall Street Journals while waiting for their agenda item. Whatever that was, it wasn't mass transportation.

Cutting routes and raising fares was the budget directive. Among the agencies I was with, the scuttlebutt was that county executive Scott Walker was getting citizen calls to restore routes, but not to restore lower fares. I was there to show support for both. Increased fares are a special hardship for people on fixed (or declining) incomes and Paratransit users--people who can't ride the regular buses because of physical impediments.

The meeting turned from cranky discussion of delayed maintenance of county buildings--and the huge remediation costs that are mounting--to electric. Just about everyone was frustrated by the failure to provide good public transportation that would help support the county's ability to reinvigorate itself.

A couple committee members used this item as a platform to deride Scott Walker and his budget. And in a rare show of solidarity, nearly all the supervisors showed up in the audience to support route restoration, including Tosa Supervisors Jim Schmidt and, I think, Lynn DeBruin.

Board Chairman Lee Holloway rose to introduce an amendment to restore the routes.

Then the public had a chance to speak. But it wasn't the Paratransit folks with their wheelchairs and hand-lettered signs who touched those present. It was the parents, teachers, and students of Ronald Wilson Reagan College Preparatory High School who raised the emotion in the room.

This south-side charter school won its certification to operate exclusively on the International Baccalaureate program last year. Students who graduate from such a program enter college anywhere in the world as sophomores. Only a few years old, the school's composite test scores exceed state averages in reading and language arts and approach them in math. It's a huge accomplishment for a Milwaukee school.

Some 70% of students ride the #20 bus to school. It's one of the routes scheduled to be cut. Without transportation, many kids won't be able to attend, and the school's existence will be threatened.

And as a west-side Tosa parent who had to rely on the illusion of public transportation for students, I'll vouch for those who said that the budget offer of one bus in the morning and one at night cuts kids and their parents out of the full life of the school, including extra curriculars and extra help.

Why should we in Wauwatosa care about what happens to kids in Milwaukee or people with disabilities? Why should those of us with personal transportation care about mass transportation? I won't give you the moral answers or the anticrime ones. But the business of transportation isn't just moving goods and people. It's moving the economy by connecting people with jobs, education, and opportunity.

And you can't expect people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when you've cut off their "feet."

In fairness to Scott Walker, a decent transit system is beyond county resources. It needs a dedicated funding source, as all successful city and regional transit systems have. But until that becomes a possibility, we need to provide affordable transportation to the people who need it most.

We had to leave before the end of the meeting. My guess is the committee accepted Holloway's amendment, Walker will veto the transit budget, and the board will override his veto.

I don't know what will happen with fares. You can call Walker and your supervisor to ask them to hold the line on fares, especially for Paratransit users. It's essential, not a luxury.

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