Maureen Connors Badding arrived in Wauwatosa 22 years ago via Buffalo and Phoenix. She's a freelance writer and habitual volunteer who enjoys book clubs, travel, entertaining and cheering for her daughter's swim team.
It’s hard to get Tosans worked up about mass transit. We’re a city of mostly two-cars-in-every-garage families. We like the door-to-door convenience that personal vehicles provide. And we’re urban enough that we can walk to stores, restaurants and services when we’re feeling environmentally friendly.
If I mentioned property tax relief, would that pique your interest in mass transit?
The truth is, while we should care about mass transit for environmental, social and business reasons, the majority of suburbanites will only care when it affects their own bottom line.
The Regional Transit and Jobs Investment Act will do just that. This proposed bill would give communities the option of creating an Interim Regional Transit Authority, which removes transit funding from the county property tax rolls and moves it to a sales tax-based system. (Milwaukee is one of the last major metro regions to have property tax-based funding for transit.)
The IRTA and funding change are beneficial for several reasons:
1) The cost of transit will be shared by all county residents and visitors, not just homeowners.
2) The sales tax will be capped at 0.5% -- a tax, incidentally, which was approved in Milwaukee County by voter referendum in November 2008.
3) The tax may only go into affect when transit has been removed from the county budget and, in effect, your property tax bill.
4) The IRTA will facilitate integration of services and cost savings through a regional transit authority and in conjunction with the KRM (Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee) commuter rail line, which has its own separate funding source in place.
5) The system provides adequate funding for an effective mass transit system that can link workers with employers.
That last point is crucial, because Milwaukee County’s current bus system is only a shell of its former self. Cuts to routes and service over the last several years have resulted in more than 40,000 jobs becoming inaccessible by transit. When employers think about expanding in metro Milwaukee, accessibility by their workers is a key consideration that is leaving us behind.
According to the TransitNOW website, a study by the UWM Institute of Public Policy on the economic impact of the KRM project reports “its construction would generate nearly 4,000 jobs and have a $560 million impact on the local economy.”
Also on the TransitNow website is a letter signed by the leaders of many of SE Wisconsin’s largest employers — including Northwestern Mutual, SC Johnson, Roundy’s, Bucyrus, AT&T, Froedtert and Johnson Controls — stating, in essence, that we have to institute the funding shift and fix our transit system now to save jobs in our region.
So while you may never ride a bus or take the commuter rail to Chicago, it’s important for our area’s economic development that the opportunity to do so is available.
To find out more about mass transit in Milwaukee, go to TransitNow.org or attend an information session at the Wauwatosa Senior Center in Hart Park’s Muellner Building at 12:30 p.m. on March 16. Other sessions are in the works, but no matter where they are, there's a pretty good chance you’ll have to drive to get there.