Assembly committee approves RTA bill

    The Assembly Transportation Committee today approved the creation of interim regional transit authorities in seven southeastern Wisconsin counties with incentives for them to eventually join the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority.
    If approved by the full legislature and governor, the bill would allow Milwaukee County to remove mass transit from the property tax levy and instead impose a dedicated sales tax for mass transit.
    The bill also would create an RTA for the Fox Valley and would require binding referendums before the RTAs could asses a sales tax increase to pay for transportation costs. Milwaukee County would be exempt from that requirement because voters there already approved a sales tax boost in a 2008 advisory referendum.
    Rep. John Steinbrink (D-Pleasant Prairie), chairman of the committee, said the legislation "allows every community that wants mass transit to move forward" and "gives a voice to the people who are actually paying the bills on this."
    The bill passed on an 8-2 vote, with Rep. Al Ott (R-Forest Junction) joining seven Democrats in voting for the bill. GOP Reps. Jeff Stone of Greendale and Garey Bies of Sister Bay were absent for the vote.
    The bill now goes to the Joint Finance Committee, which could take it up as early as next week.
    The binding referendum is a change from previous versions of the bill, and many legislators who were cautious about the legislation said a referendum was essential.
    The legislation also would offer $9 million in incentive funds for southeastern Wisconsin counties to join the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority. In addition, the bill also would allow counties to keep revenues generated from transit within the county but only to spend on transit service or planning.

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