Southeastern Wisconsin leaders ask state to restore mass transit funding

    A coalition of southeastern Wisconsin civic, educational and business leaders is asking the state Legislature to restore state funding for mass transit in the region.
    The coalition sent a letter to state senators and Assembly members Monday, calling on legislators to refrain from making the cuts outlined in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill. The letter said mass transit is vital to the economic future of southeastern Wisconsin economy.
    The letter was co-signed by Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman; Cudahy Mayor Anthony Day; St. Francis Mayor Al Richards; South Milwaukee Mayor Tom Zepecki; Racine Mayor John Dickert; Oak Creek Mayor Richard Bolander; Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele; Greater Milwaukee Committee President Julia Taylor; Racine Area Chamber of Commerce President Michael Kobylka; South Suburban Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Wesener; KenoshaArea Business Alliance President Todd Battle; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Michael Lovell; University of Wisconsin-Parkside Chancellor Deborah Ford; Milwaukee Downtown Executive Director Beth Nicols; Devin Sutherland of Downtown Racine Corp. BID #1; Mike Fabishak of Associated General Contractors Greater Milwaukee; and Tom Rave of The Gateway to Milwaukee.
    The letter stated:
    “In the current economy, creating, maintaining, and connecting people to private sector jobs is a top priority. The state budget proposal to drastically reduce state funding for already severely strained transit systems in SE Wisconsin would threaten economic growth by making it harder or impossible for workers to get to jobs and discourage employers from locating or expanding in Wisconsin.
    “Left unaddressed, the state budget is poised to cut nearly $8 million from transit systems in the region, and up to $14 million in cuts to transit systems statewide. At the same time, most of SE Wisconsin transit services are provided by private companies, whose workers are not subject to the Budget Repair Bill, which leaves no viable options for absorbing the funding cuts other than service cuts.
    “On average, nearly half of the rides on transit are people going to or from a job, or a job search. And many thousands more are future workers, who are using transit to get to schools, colleges and universities.
    “Business, elected, and community leaders in SE Wisconsin have priori-zed transit issues for years. Adequate transit funding is critical for our economy, our businesses and educational systems, and our citizens. With gas prices at record levels and expected to climb, 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.
    “Please take the following ac-on as you discuss transit funding in the state budget:
    “Restore transit aids to their current level in 2012 and future years. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau recently estimated the transportation fund balance and found it will contain an additional $27 million in funding. By using under $14 million of that funding for local transit aid, transit systems across Wisconsin will be able to maintain state funding at the current level during the next budget cycle and avoid significant cuts to vital services. Maintaining thriving transit systems in SE Wisconsin is key to keeping Wisconsin’s economic engine strong.
    “We encourage you to restore transit aids and protect our ability to remain competitive as we seek to create and retain jobs, help train and educate our workers, and connect workers to employers in Southeast Wisconsin.”
    Tension continued to build in Madison today as legislators, public employees and union representatives waited to hear if the Wisconsin Supreme Court would issue a ruling about Walker’s budget repair bill. If the court does not make a ruling, Republican legislative leaders say they are prepared to reintroduce the bill, which would revoke the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
    – BizTimes

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