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.

Democrats want more unelected taxing RTAs

Taxes, Legislation

The 2009-11 state budget signed into law by Governor Doyle that was crafted exclusively by Democrats and primarily behind closed doors authorized the creation of several new regional transit authorities (RTAs).

An RTA managed by members that are unelected and unaccountable to the taxpaying public enjoys wide powers. An RTA may operate a transportation system or provide for its operation by contracting with a public or private organization; impose, by its board of directors adopting a resolution, a sales and use tax in the RTA’s jurisdictional area at a rate not exceeding 0.5 percent; acquire property by condemnation; and issue tax-exempt revenue bonds.

RTAs would administer bus systems and commuter rail lines and be funded via local sales tax. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has reported that a half-cent sales tax increase to fund RTA's would cost about $172 per household a year.

During May 2009, I wrote in a column d
uring state budget deliberations that approved RTAs in the wee hours of the morning:

“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. Boards and authorities with appointed members having taxing power should end, and new ones should not be created.  This is taxation without representation.  The power to tax should only come from elected representation.”

High speed rail systems costing billions of dollars have been discussed and light rail could be on the horizon. Commuter or light rail systems are too expensive, fail to attract new riders, and fail to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

Against this backdrop, Democrat legislators in Madison want to go even further. Legislation will soon be introduced to create a new type of RTA called the Interim Regional Transit Authority or IRTA. Under the bill, the governing body of a municipality or county within the area comprising the counties of Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Racine, and Waukesha may, by resolution, create an IRTA.

Supporters of the legislation point out that it allows, but does not mandate, the inclusion of Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington Counties as part of the Southeastern RTA (SERTA).  SERTA consists of Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties and was created in the 2009-11 state budget.  This is not reassuring because the legislation opens the door to Waukesha County, for example of  creating an RTA of its own or joining SERTA.  Once government gets its nose under the flap of the tent, historically government fails to pull back.  Given the opportunity to create or join an RTA, a municipality could very well take that action, resulting in new taxes and expensive transit systems that won’t garner enough users to pay for the cost.

Under the proposed legislation, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, “an IRTA may generate revenue by imposing a local motor vehicle registration fee, levying a room tax of up to eight percent on the privilege of furnishing hotel and motel rooms to transients, similar to the current law room tax that a municipality may impose, imposing, by the adoption of a resolution by the IRTA’s board of directors, a sales and use tax if approved in a referendum in the IRTA’s jurisdictional area; or charging a membership fee to the participating political subdivisions of the IRTA. “

Because this legislation is problematic for so many reasons, I am in strong opposition.

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