There has been reporting in the Journal Sentinel and elsewhere about a petition to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission by a well-connected conservative citizen that seeks to determine who would pay for the cost of moving utility lines if Milwaukee streetcar lines are constructed.
The petitioner hopes the PSC will order that those costs be borne by City of Milwaukee taxpayers only.
Sounds wonky, and perhaps cut-and-dried, but it's a new round in a fight over Milwaukee rail transit dating back to the 1990's, and the issue doesn't usually make it to the Public Service Commission docket.
The petitioner seeking the ruling is Brett Healy, as an individual.
Healy is also President of the conservative MacIver Institute, and he's being represented by a relatively new legal institute that receives funding from the conservative Bradley Foundation, so it's pretty clear this is another effort by ideologues on the right to derail urban trains, and the Milwaukee streetcar plan in particular.
As a MacIver Institute posting says:
Healy...has requested a declaratory judgment that the City of Milwaukee will be responsible for paying for the costs associated with moving utility facilities underneath the proposed Milwaukee Streetcar route. Healy is represented in the matter by Richard M. Esenberg and Thomas C. Kamenick of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.Healy's name is going to ring a bell with Gov. Walker's new commissioners' majority at the PSC.
* One of the new commissioners on the PSC is Attorney Ellen Nowak who worked at the State Capitol for Republicans and served as former GOP Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen's legal counsel.
* Healy also worked for Jensen, including as chief of staff - - and the Town of Brookfield legislator was a long-time opponent of Milwaukee light rail planning. Jensen inserted language in the state budget that forbade any spending on light rail outside of Kenosha County or Dane County - - a policy aimed at blocking movement on rail inside the City and County of Milwaukee.
The restrictions sponsored by Jensen ran parallel with Marquette Interchange planning - - showing, again, the routine preference for public spending on highways (without beating path to the PSC over utility costs), while hurdles both old and new have obstructed urban rail in Milwaukee.
The earlier light rail plan backed by the City of Milwaukee, and fought by Jensen, was eventually dropped.
"Light rail is dead," Jensen famously declared, and now people formerly around him can take their shot again at the streetcar incarnation 15 years later.
Note also that Walker killed a federally-funded $800 million Amtrak extension to Madison from Milwaukee, and derailed this key segment of Pres. Obama's Midwest high-speed rail system.
Walker is still committed to smaller Amtrak improvements to the south-bound Milwaukee-Chicago Amtrak service.
This is because Milwaukee business leaders know that lawyers, commodities traders and other Milwaukee-area Republican or upper-income regional residents often use that line, so Walker is serving his corporate, convenience-minded allies by budgeting some money for these improvements - - even though the federal Amtrak funds he forfeited would have covered the costs.
And when various utility lines, poles, towers, transformers and stations need to be moved for a stretch of I-94 past the stadium and Story Hill to link up with the fast-tracked Zoo Interchange serving Waukesha, Menomonee Falls and the south suburbs, among six new big highway projects in the pipeline under Walker statewide, don't look for MacIver, Jensen & Friends to petition the PSC to bill local property taxpayers for the utility work.
That double-standard is only for city rail.
* Oh - - the other half of Walker's new, working 2-1 majority on the PSC is Phil Montgomery, a former, six-term GOP state representative from the Green Bay area who served in the Assembly's Republican caucus along with Jensen.
The state slogan used to be "Wisconsin: You're Among Friends."
Looks like that's back on track.