Tuesday, June 10, 2008

State Rep. Jon Richards Calls For Modern Transit: Is Scott Walker Listening?

State Rep. Jon Richards, (D-Milwaukee), calls for investment in rail transit in and around Milwaukee.

He is right. And the argument has gained greater validity as gasoline breaks the $4-per-gallon barrier.

The continuing obstacle is Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who does not believe in rail for the city, and who is willing use the riders of the county's deteriorating bus system as pawns in his struggle for transit spending control with Mayor Tom Barrett.

Walker wants to use all of a pot of federal funding to buy new buses; Barrett wants the money divided between new buses and a trolley system in the downtown.

The stalemate precedes Barrett's 2004 election.

The county's inability to provide reasonable transit and other important services recently led to the stunning public declaration by Sheldon Lubar, the well-known civil and business leader, that Milwaukee County government could be replaced with much-decentralized structure.

Lubar is also a Republican: disenchantment with Walker and county government is not necessarily partisan.

I have said in various forums that much of Milwaukee County's continuing fiscal problems began when former County Executive F. Thomas Ament and his allies on the county board of supervisors approved a series of greedy and ridiculously unsustainable pension obligations that continue to drain county coffers of millions of dollars annually.

Why I hold Walker responsible for the county's inertia ever since the pension fiasco was unearthed - - recall elections booted Ament and many supervisors, with Walker and other 'reformers winning election in 2002- - - is the way Walker relies on it as the political gift that keeps on giving.

Walker keeps on pleading poverty, and continues to cut services, including the transit system - - even though a large percentage of Milwaukee residents do not own cars, could less afford them now, and rely on buses that charge them among the highest fares in the country.

And Walker has not kept on top of pension problems that have mounted since 2002.

Walker will simply will not lead on fiscal policy. There's no innovation, no plan, no bold combination of tax shifts, let alone any increases, or revenue changes, with the state and city as partners, so that transit can be improved in the city and county.

He recently spelled out his pro-car, anti-rail belief system in an email to Charlie Sykes, posted here.

Opined Walker:

"The reality is that mass transit is for those who are transit dependent: people who need a ride because of income or health status. Its primary purpose is not to thrill people. Its primary purpose is to get people from one spot to another.

"Study after study shows that no matter how “exciting” rail is, the overwhelming majority of workers will stay in their vehicles and drive to work. So why spend millions and millions extra to move a percentage or two into mass transit?"

Maybe Walker doesn't know how many Milwaukee County residents have no access to automobiles, or what the impact of $4-gallon-gasoline has on a low-to-moderate income family?

UW-M researchers have noted that low-income families frequently lack access to an automobile, finding that 81% of people living below the poverty line in the Milwaukee-Ozaukee-Washington-Waukesha region live in the City of Milwaukee.

Walker thinks workers prefer to "stay in their vehicles and drive to work?"
What workers are these, and how in the real world do they get from Milwaukee to jobs in Pewaukee or West Bend or Cedarburg, for example?

Tacking to the right, and not to the center on this constellation of what should be seen as non-partisan matters has made Walker the darling of talk radio and the state GOP, but that leaves the public in the lurch.

Walker recently laid out his pro-car, anti-rail belief system in an email posted by AM-620 WTMJ talker Charlie Sykes.

Without creative solutions, without leadership from Walker - - and soon - - Milwaukee County will lose even more of its bus system.

The downtown trolleys could feed riders to the buses, and vice-versa, expand the new InterModal station downtown and coordinate with the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter line - - if that long-stalled initiative ever gets running.

Walker has managed to keep Milwaukee as just about the only rail-free big city in America. Soon it will be without a functional bus system, which is a county service.

Walker has to stop falling back on a bad hand he inherited in 2002.

He could start by calling Jon Richards.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me Scott Walker or someone at MCTS should call this organization and find out how they fixed there problems: http://www.rgrta.com/

(see it can be fixed)

Anonymous said...

Is Scott Walker willing or able to cite any of the many studies he claims show light rail does not work? (Just one would be nice; we are all supposed to be adults here.) Because everything I have read says the exact opposite, including the study by the strongly conservative Paul Weyrich -- you know, the one for which Tommy Thompson wrote the Foreword!

But for crying out loud, I hope Ald. Richards and other local elected officials are willing to at least put a small percent sales tax increase to a vote -- and one dedicated only to transit funding, Mr. Mayor. Why should we in Milwaukee have to depend on what Madison wants?

A tax-supported (at least in part) regional transit authority for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha sounds like a good idea to me. And, hey, isn't it long past time to stop listening to ignorant, loudmouth local radio talkers?

Anonymous said...

Oops. Make that State Rep. Jon Richards, not Alderman. I guess I am just thrown off by Scott Walker's incredibly minimalist, erroneous take on mass transit. Soaring gas prices, pollution, congestion, perhaps even an enjoyable ride and a way to really see your community, and all it is to him is ... is a way to get from Point A to Point B??? Talk about limited horizons. Has he been to Denver (isn't he from Denver?), Dallas or Charlotte? Has he even ... oh, never mind.

What a legacy: "I held the line on property taxes." ("Even if I had to submit one fake, gimmicky budget after another to make that oh-so-grand claim.")

Anonymous said...

A reminder to Scott Walker, from John Gurda's recent Journal Sentinel piece on transit: "... the Public Policy Forum found that 75% of [Milwaukee's bus riders] rely on the bus as their only practical means of transportation ..."

capper said...

Walker is not interested in fixing the transit system, or anything else. He is trying to raise funds and build his single plank platform for his next governors election.

Word has it he is looking to cut as many as 1,000 employees next year. Does anyone think this won't have an impact on services?

Anonymous said...

Yes, we here Jon, and we laugh at him.

James Rowen said...

To the last Anon:
We here you, too.

Joseph Thomas Klein said...

For the mathematically challenged conservatives who perpetuate the myth that Bus Rapid Transit is a cheaper solution than light rail -- arch conservative Paul M. Weyrich explains the facts. Here is the URL for his article "Bus Rapid Transit – Deficiencies and Defects"


If this is a math and not an ideological argument, the historical facts (being that rail operating and maintenance costs are so low as to justify the higher capital cost) are not in Walker's favor. The fact that people in Milwaukee think otherwise, is a testimonial to our right wing 'talk radio' propagandists' ability to sell the big lie. The bottom line is, electricity is cheaper than diesel and you can't "train" a bus.