Milwaukee officials want fair share of transit funds

Five prominent Milwaukee area leaders are asking state legislators to provide more funding for Milwaukee County buses, and they want a bigger share of the $1.27 million in leftover Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (RTA) funds.

The state Legislature’s powerful budget writing Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to review transit funding issues on Thursday.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) president Tim Sheehy, Milwaukee Public Schools president Greg Thornton and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee chancellor Michael Lovell sent a letter this week to Joint Finance Committee co-chairs Rep. Robin Voss, R-Burlington, and Sen. Albert Darling, R-River Hills, asking for more transit funds for Milwaukee County buses.

“Maintaining a thriving transit system in Milwaukee County is a key part of keeping the economic engine of our state strong,” the Milwaukee area officials’ letter states. “With gas prices hovering at record levels and funding for road building set to increase, we encourage you to balance transit funding in the state budget so that our workers can get to their jobs.”

Vos and Darling could not immediately be reached for comment.

The proposed state budget would cut $13.6 million in state funding from the Milwaukee County Transit System, or about $6.8 million a year, Milwaukee County officials say. That is a 10 percent cut in the state’s funding for MCTS and is the financial equivalent of a 29 percent fare increase, said Abele spokesman Brandon Lorenz.

The Joint Finance Committee recently approved a measure to eliminate regional transit authorities in the state, including the Southeastern RTA, which was established to fund a proposed commuter rail service from Kenosha to Milwaukee. The Southeastern RTA collected funds from a car rental tax in Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee counties. There is about $1.27 million of those funds left over in the Southeastern RTA’s coffers, according to Milwaukee area officials.

The proposed state budget includes plans to evenly split and distribute the $1.27 million to Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee counties, providing about $423,000 to each county.

But Milwaukee area officials say Milwaukee County should get a much larger share of the leftover RTA funds because the vast majority of car rentals in the RTA were in Milwaukee County.

“Milwaukee County taxpayers should receive that money back to protect the county’s transit system, rather than have it diverted to other systems,” the Milwaukee officials’ letter to Vos and Darling says.

The Milwaukee officials also say that the Joint Finance Committee should use additional transportation funds to eliminate mass transit funding cuts.

“The Legislative Fiscal Bureau recently re-estimated the transportation fund balance and found it will contain an additional $27 million in funding,” their letter states. “By keeping transit funding in the transportation fund and using just $14 million of that funding for local transit aid, Milwaukee County can avoid cutting its transit system by $7 million (a year), and likewise, the rest of the state’s transit systems will be able to maintain funding at the current level during the next budget cycle.”

The Milwaukee officials also said the transportation fund should remain the source of mass transit funding. They oppose plans to move mass transit funding into the states’ general fund.

“Moving it to the general fund makes it much easier for that funding to be diverted to other purposes,” they said.

 

Andrew Weiland is managing editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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