Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

Let's not rush into rail

State budget

Wisconsin is in the midst of a mass transit frenzy. It needs to shift into park.

Governor Doyle’s proposed 2009-11 state budget includes a provision that would allow southeastern Wisconsin, Dane County and the Fox Valley to develop regional transit authorities (RTA’s). The RTA’s would administer bus systems and commuter rail lines and be funded via local sales.

The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reports a half- cent sales increase to fund RTA’s would cost about $172 per household.

In the early morning hours of May 1, 2009, while you were asleep, the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee was voting to increase your taxes. The committee voted 11-5 to create a board that would have the power to impose a one percent sales tax in Milwaukee County. Sales tax revenue would fund transit, parks, and emergency medical services. Milwaukee County’s sales tax rate would, if this plan is approved by the full Legislature and Governor Doyle, increase to 6.6 percent.

The five members of the board that would set a one percent sales tax increase would not be elected by the voting public, and thus, would not have accountability for their actions.

The committee also voted 12-4 to establish a regional transit authority in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties. A $16 car rental fee would fund the authority. The current fee is $2. The authority would operate a Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter link that more than likely will be very costly. The nine-member authority, again, would be un-elected.

I oppose the creation of boards or authorities with appointed members having taxing power. This is taxation without representation. The power to tax should only come from elected representation.

Hang on to your wallets, there goes millions of dollars. I vehemently oppose these new taxes and Regional Authorities. Our taxes are high enough, and in our darkest hours while we were asleep, the Grim Reaper swiped our credit cards, big time. 

There is more. Last month, it was reported that Governor Doyle and other Midwest governors want to use $3.4 billion in stimulus funding to build three high speed rail routes: Chicago to the Twin Cities, Chicago-to-St. Louis and Chicago-to-Detroit. The Chicago to the Twin Cities route would include a Milwaukee to Madison segment.

Who knows? There might even be talk about light rail in the not too distant future. The following illustrates the folly of light rail.

During December 1993, a Study Advisory Committee appointed by the governor recommended a mass transit plan to facilitate traffic along the I-94 corridor between Milwaukee and Waukesha. The plan included spending $543 million for a 14-mile light rail line running from Glendale to the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa and a $257 million busway, a separate road running parallel to I-94 from downtown Milwaukee to Waukesha.  At the time, I questioned if individual commuters would opt for the 42-minute, 14-mile light rail trip with frequent stops at 15-20 miles per hour.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) stated passengers were expected to be existing mass transit users and that there may be a potential to attract new passengers.

Numbers provided by the LFB and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation demonstrated the massive, if not sinful expense of light rail. The capital costs of the proposed 14-mile light rail line were estimated at $543 million with annual operating costs, in 1992 dollars estimated at $7.7 million. The capital costs of a single busway from Waukesha to Milwaukee were estimated at $257 million with 0 (zero) annual operating costs because the busway would have accommodated existing busses.

I expressed at the time that it was incomprehensible as to why proponents would want to duplicate services by putting a $543 million light rail and a $257 million busway in the corridor between Milwaukee and Waukesha. If the goal was to address traffic congestion and air quality, what about two additional busways with 0 (zero) annual operating costs for the price of one light rail?

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) also finds the cost of rail to be astronomical, reporting the most cost-effective federally funded systems have required annual subsidies of $5,000 and more per new ride.  The WPRI said in a 1998 study that commuter rail would also be ineffective in reducing congestion and would have fewer riders than light rail. The study estimated an East-West Corridor route would cost at least $16,000 annually per new automobile driver attracted, A Chicago corridor would cost $20,000 per year per new automobile driver attracted. The costs would be exponentially higher today.

Add it all up. Commuter or light rail systems are too expensive, fail to attract few riders, and fail to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

Let’s slam the brakes on this mass transit stampede.

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