Sales tax should fund Milwaukee County’s mass transit

    Suppose every time you went out for dinner, as a property taxpayer, you had to pick up the tab for everyone else in the restaurant who didn’t pay property taxes. It wouldn’t seem very fair. Yet this is exactly the way we fund our local transit costs in Wisconsin.

    It’s time to change the equation and share the costs the same way almost every other metro area in the country does. We need to quit putting the tab on the people who pay property taxes and share the tab with those who live here and those who visit for work and play.

    Although most other major metropolitan regions around the nation have adapted to economic conditions by shifting their public infrastructure to sales tax funding systems, Milwaukee County continues to rely upon the antiquated funding model that most others shifted away from in the 70s.

    Rather than continue to depend upon a regressive source – property taxes – to fund major infrastructure necessities such as transit, we need to get in line with other major metropolitan areas of the country.
    We need to change the way we fund critical services in Milwaukee County. We need to shift the majority of the burden off property owners and rely on funding sources that take advantage of the out-of-region visitors who come into our county for work, shopping, recreation and travel. A sales tax would achieve this objective.

    Failure to change and adopt this system in Milwaukee County will lead to the loss of critical services sooner than you may think. For example, Milwaukee County’s transit system is suffering so badly from the inadequate level of funding it currently receives as part of the regressive, property taxpayer-funded system, that the following cuts could be expected in 2011 if this system isn’t changed in the current legislative session:

    • Elimination of all freeway fliers which provide regional service;
    • Elimination of all bus service to local colleges and universities;
    • Elimination of special event service to Summerfest, Brewers games and other festivals; and
    • Elimination of one of every three bus routes, and major restructuring of 14 other routes.


    It is time to realize that our region and state need to move forward and adapt our infrastructure investments to the sales tax funding system that has worked successfully throughout the country. Other major metropolitan areas maintain thriving infrastructure systems – such as public bus and commuter rail transit systems – without overburdening the property owners of those regions.

    Failure to make this critical change will result in job loss, continued high unemployment because workers cannot connect to jobs, inability for the elderly and disabled to access critical services such as health care, and will serve as another barrier to education in our county. Losing our transit system would be devastating to an area struggling to recreate its economy and job base.

    The business community in this region has rallied to save our local transit system by supporting the efforts to shift the cost of transit infrastructure off of the property tax rolls to a sales tax. As companies focused on creating jobs and prospering through a challenging environment, their success depends on their ability to change and adapt to meet the supply and demand of the market. It’s time for our lawmakers in Madison to listen to this loud, clear call from the business community and to change the way we fund critical infrastructure services, rather than risk losing them and our status as a thriving metropolitan region.


    Julia Taylor is president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

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