Transportation Spending Distortions Keep Hammering Milwaukee Taxpayers
Early discussions related to the 2009 Milwaukee budget are underway at City Hall about how to pay for street repairs.
Then the decisions:
Will there be an additional $5 street services fee?
A $20 per-registered vehicle, the so-called wheel tax?
No one wants to pay more fees or taxes, but one variation or another will likely be in the budget to stretch property tax dollars and provide the street services that are basic to running a city.
The craziness of this situation is rooted in state transportation spending and special-interest politics, with billions ticketed for road-building, regardless of the drop-off in driving due to high gasoline prices and the resulting, rekindled public interest in transit.
The Milwaukee government has asked the state to reduce by $200 million its commitment to the $1.9 billion reconstruction and widening of I-94 from the Mitchell Interchange south to the Illinois state line, with the $200 million redirected into commuter rail.
That effort was led by Milwaukee Ald. Bob Bauman.
The state has refused.
That leaves commuters south of Milwaukee eight years of orange barrel hell, and the highway-only option.
And city residents will see none of the state's new-highway budgeted billions for local services - - pothole repairs, snow removal, and other maintenance basics - - let alone a genuine transit upgrade for the region, or for, gasp!, local rail transit.
To make matter worse, a state legislative study committee is soon to begin work at the State Capitol on easing regional transportation authorities' abilities to launch new rail systems - - but state legislative leaders couldn't figure out a way to put Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's nominee on the 22-member panel.
Barrett's nominee? The aforementioned Ald. Bauman.
Of sixteen seats on the committee not designated for legislators, six went to Madisonians.
The state is not pledged to a "fix-it-first" approach to transportation spending, or "transit-first-or-second."
The City of Milwaukee, with streets and infrastructure to pay for, and obstructed by a county executive hostile to the transit system he operates, is thus forced to tap its residents for either fees or new taxes to maintain a one-dimensional status-quo.
All in all, not a good outlook for Milwaukee, the state's largest city, and with the largest number of transit-users, too.
A gasoline tax always seemed the most fair method of financing repairs. The more gasoline consumed by a vehicle, the more impact on the road. Bigger vehicles get less miles to the gallon so would appropriately be paying more tax to fix the roads. (There may be a "break point", i.e., below a certain weight has minimal impact, above that weight significant impact... but a tax captures the general idea.)
On a different topic, Feingold has issued a statement in support of the Great Lakes Water Compact.
This seems encouraging. It was introduced by Levin and Voinovich. Bipartisan and high ranking senators, so their serious. That might pass and maybe get close to veto-proof.
The House should be more difficult, though.
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