I have always supported regional transit. Unless mass transit plays a role in the way our region grows, drivers will spend more time sitting in traffic, using more gas and creating more exhaust. It will also affect our regional ability to compete with attracting new businesses and tourism.
The goal of an RTA is to provide choices and alternatives to commuters, and when well designed, it can produce many benefits for a community and a region. Transit reduces pollution, relieves congestion on roads and connects workers with jobs. It improves access to airports, hotels and city centers, which makes the region a more inviting and accommodating place to live and do business. It can also help spur an increase in recreational travel and bring more revenue to the area it is serving.
I want to especially thank the business and labor leaders who have stepped forth in support of regional transit, including Ed Zore with Northwestern Mutual, Tim Sullivan with Bucyrus, Julia Taylor from Greater Milwaukee Committee, Rich Abelson from AFSCME District Council 48, Sheila Cochran with the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, and Lyle Balistreri from the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council. When business, labor, transit advocates, and citizens come together, the Legislature needs to pay attention.
I am concerned about the dilapidated state of county transit under County Executive Scott Walker, and I empathize with those who rely on the buses to get to work and school. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee lost a significant opportunity to achieve real regional transit in the last budget, by letting Racine and Kenosha off the hook financially while doubling the tax on Milwaukee. This abandonment of real RTA, the doubling of the tax on Milwaukee, along with the delay in the Zoo Interchange reconstruction, were major transportation factors that contributed to my No vote on the budget.
My position on RTA is very clear and has been consistent: I support a regional transit system that is truly regional and multi-county. The funding should be regional and dedicated solely to transit. Additionally, any new funding must be offset by a reduction in property taxes.
While I will continue to support RTA, I hope to ultimately see a proposal that is truly regional, includes property tax relief, and offers true change and more efficient transit. I do not want to see a proposal that just puts more dollars toward what is now a dysfunctional system. At the very least, we should be able to agree that we need to move toward efficient, regional transit, that we need to get it off the property tax, and that the current state of erosion of the bus system is not acceptable.
Creating true regional transit will enable people to live, work and do business throughout southeastern Wisconsin. I will continue to work with our regional partners and my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to create regional transit that works for the residents and businesses in our community.