Sunday, June 17, 2007

An Emerging Progressive Agenda?

News that statewide universal health care proposals are gaining strength in Wisconsin, while being hopeful developments on their own, are also indicators that a progressive approach to public policy in our state has a growing audience.

Elected officials and policy-makers could replicate the health care model to expand their advocacy for a broad, progressive agenda in Wisconsin - - using the health care issue because it is rooted in an effort to achieve a common good.

Promoting transit, for example, rather than the state's single-minded diversion of billions of public dollars into highway-building, is another such opportunity.

As is conserving land and water for public uses, rather than for sprawl development served by new highways paid for by our taxes.

And both connect to the push for a healthier populace because transit, land use preservation and conservation produce cleaner, healthier air and water resources, too.

Note how aggressively California is dealing with the health and environmental consequences of sprawl - - in a state run by a Republican.

And all these issues come into sharper focus as the population ages, the climate gets warmer, gasoline prices rise, and so on. The timing for coherent policy planning at all levels of government and the economy - - in the genuine public interest - - is oh, so right.

Democrats in Wisconsin are sometimes pursuing pieces of environmental opportunities, and the public's well-documented support for clean air, water and open space, such as Gov. Jim Doyle's praiseworthy expansion of the Stewardship Fund's open space purchases.

And the lack of a Democratic majority in the State Assembly is perhaps another roadblock to a more publicly-spirited state policy agenda.

But even Democrats shy away from a definitive, definable progressive agenda, fearing the wrath of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, or the powerful road-builders lobby, and other loud voices that demand private interests take priority over the public good.

That's why Milwaukee does not have modern rail transit, for instance, penalizing the city's economy, stifling its appeal to visitors and complicating access to jobs for workers.

Wisconsin's inability to endorse the Great Lakes Compact, a water conservation agreement with seven other states and two Canadian provinces, is another example.

Supporters of conservation and smarter land use planning want guarantees in the Compact legislation that conserving water will be at the heart of a Wisconsin bill - - to protect a vital Wisconsin and planetary resource.

Development interests and their allies in the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce and the Republican caucus from Waukesha County, however, do not want to be part of a multi-state agreement that could restrict pipelines of Lake Michigan water to push sprawl west to the Jefferson County line.

So far, they are winning the argument by blocking a state legislative study committee from writing a strong, pro-Compact endorsement.

Democrats at the state level not used these issues to help their Milwaukee base - - the state's largest urban area: local Democrats, for the most part, have not tied the issues together with a coordinated political and media strategy, either.

It's a curious and disappointing dynamic.

But keep an eye on the health care coverage debate. It can go as far as folks want, and be used in a positive way for the good of the state, if there is the political will to do it.


Anonymous said...


I am a pragmatist, by which I mean if something works my world view doesn't get in the way.

While we definitely have different definitions of what being a progressive entails you included rail with your definition.

Here my question, Madison is basing its rail on Kenosha's and it certainly seems that theirs was a big waste of money for every day Joe and Jane.

My point here is even though I have a contrary view on rail if ridership was increasing you would have pulled me in. If it can't be a success in Kenosha that has a direct link to CTA, where can it be successful.

James Rowen said...

As Kenosha redevelops, its trolley line will assist. It's a long-term process.

Transportation planners need to provide real choices, and rail is essential to the mix.

And essential as an investtmentand jobs' tool along the lines, and at stops and stations, in ways that buses cannot be.

Anonymous said...

Haven't they had it since 2000? Sounds to me like its similar to Madison's overpriced parking garage (convention center).

Either way you look at it, Kenosha doesn't make the sales pitch. Madison used to have trollies and the only one that was self efficient was the Fair Oaks one.

It seems to me like a lot of wasted money for 50 riders a day. As I said I am a pragmatist, show me that it works and not a pipe dream and I'll support it.

James Rowen said...

I think it's a long-term process. And look at the challenges that face Kenosha.

Madison will figure out that rail can assist with its overall investment strategies, and can also with relieve its peculiar traffic dynamics due to the Isthmus.

Milwaukee needs rail for better connections to its airport, major tourist destinations, downtown development and job sites for people without cars.

Again, buses just can't cut it.

Do we offer choices, or do we not?

James Rowen said...

Apologies to Anonymous for the typos and glitches in my responses. I will stop posting before I put in my contact lenses.

Anonymous said...

Madison won't have rail or at least intercity rail. As I said if it worked that's one thing, but the so called bringing in development is a line of crap.

Defunding the bus system to have a trolley no one rides is not wise by any standard.

What I would support is a train system linking Madison, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Green Bay etc. That makes sense and will certainly to more to reduce traffic than some silly corporate welfare.

Let be honest trolleys are for those who pay no property taxes, pay little or nothing for road upkeep. Why should those who live in the city fund this when it is designed to make the burbites navigation through out the city easier.

Again, I'm pragmatic if not Kenosha, where? Show me where a central city trolley system has been successful. And, none of that development crap.

Instead of a trolley it seems wiser to give them a bike. Madison, especially downtown, has historically been a walking city. A trolley would not change that.

James Rowen said...

To Anon: You can read all about trolleys, light rail and development on the web, through Google.

Here is one example - - - - and I'd appreciate it if you took a more civil tone.

Transit users pay for roads through property and income taxes, too. Gas taxes don't cover all those costs, and the other taxes don't cover all the rail costs, either.

So we all contribute. I make this same argument elsewhere on this blog with reference to a recent Milwaukee column by Patrick McIlheran of the Journal Sentinel.

He suggested road users pick up all those costs with gas taxes. Not correct.

We live in a shared society, and we all kick in for services even if we don't use them. Schools. Fire protection. Health departments. Ice skating rinks. Golf courses.

And rail does lead to development.

Have you taken the AMTRAK to Chicago lately, and seen the development around the stations in southeastern Wisconsin and N. IL?

Anonymous said...

Whatever, as far as the tone goes. Don't publish it if you don't want to.

I have read up on trolleys, my question was some evidence of where its working. I take it that you don't have any examples.

Rail would fall primarily on the property tax as buses and other forms of transportation does now. Those that would tentatively use trolleys are burbites or tourists, both don't pay the property tax. Ideally those moving into those new upper middle class developments would, but no evidence is forthcoming. Most folks won't take trolleys to work, we both know that.

What will happen as it did in LA was the bus service would be defunded at the expense of trolleys. The bus union sued the city over this defunding. Trolleys pit well to do burbs against struggling workers, period.

You think I'm stupid, we both know we're not talking Amtrak. I have said multiple times that I am in favor of rail throughout WI and connecting to ILL and beyond. That development is not dependent on a all city rail that no one will use.

Again, if you show me where all city rail has worked, I'll listen. Up to know you've given me the runaround and confused Amtrac, medium rail, and light rail.

James Rowen said...

I left you a link about modern trolleys and their developmental impact in Portland.

You asked for an example. Did you read it?