Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:17 pm
A recent BizTimes.com poll asked if a regional sales tax should be used to help finance a new arena to replace the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
A better question is, “Should a regional sales tax be used to help finance a new arena and transit?”
I offer that revision to the question because it’s time to stop relegating Milwaukee County Transit needs to the back of the bus.
In response to the argument that Miller Park would boost economic development, taxpayers came to the aid of the Brewers’ new home.
The fact of the matter is that public transportation is the heartbeat of economic development. Buses move our children to education. Buses move our workers to jobs. Buses move our residents to shopping, doctor appointments and recreation – including Miller Park.
According to recent data, more than 35 percent of Milwaukee County Transit System passengers do not have an automobile in their household, and their access to jobs, health care, shopping and education is virtually dependent on public transit.
Not saving our transit system with a sales tax would lead to mandatory cuts of 20 to 30 percent across the board, resulting in fewer routes, fewer drivers, diminished service and fewer critically needed connections to jobs.
While transit funding is large and complex, key elements contribute to the current transit crisis.
First, we lack a dedicated funding source for transit. In a 2008 advisory referendum, 52 percent of Milwaukee County voters said “yes” to a transit tax, but the state of Wisconsin will not allow the county to execute it. (Ironically, as of Feb. 4, 2013, 52 percent of respondents to the informal poll I cited at the beginning of this blog voted “no” on a sales tax for a new arena.)
Second, state funding has not kept pace with inflation and rising fuel costs. Milwaukee County has had to spend down $40 million in federal capital funding during the past several years for operating costs. We need restoration of the 10 percent reduction in state mass transit operating assistance and the provision of an additional three percent cost-of-living adjustment in the next state budget.
There is no more time to wait. Our mantra must be “Bucks and Buses.” It’s time to steer desperately needed resources for the benefit of all of Milwaukee County, not just for the sake of professional athletes.
Milwaukee County Supervisor Michael Mayo Sr. is the chairman of the Milwaukee County Board’s Committee on Transportation, Public Works and Transit.