We Can Do Both

The region can provide a sound financial footing for commuter rail and for buses.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Sept. 2, 2010 

Rep. Gwen Moore is right – and she’s wrong. The Wisconsin Democrat is right in her concern for the Milwaukee County Transit System and the need to find a dedicated source of funding to pay for and improve the system. But she’s wrong to think that a proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line will necessarily hurt funding for buses.

The region needs both rail and buses, and the region can provide both as reasonable options for commuters and as economic development tools.

Moore and some others – Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway among them – say that they support the commuter rail line but they want to first see Milwaukee County’s bus system put on a sound financial footing. Their concern is well-founded.

Because of severe financial challenges faced by the county, the system has seen fare hikes, service cuts or both in most recent years. And future budgets won’t be any easier; the system faces a $10 million shortfall next year.

And although county residents supported a sales tax increase to fund buses in a non-binding referendum, legislators in Madison have yet to authorize such an increase for the county. Key figures such as Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker – who has been in charge as the system has declined – oppose the increase. But others such as Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee legislators and Gov. Jim Doyle also bear a strong measure of culpability for failing to find a way to create a regional transit authority that would provide adequate funding for rail and buses through a small increase in the sales tax.

That failure needs to be corrected. But none of that means that the KRM proposal should be punished because the Legislature and governor can’t agree on a funding source for buses. That’s what Moore tried to do recently when she sought to freeze federal action on the KRM.

Ideally, the KRM line would provide another transportation option for commuters in southeastern Wisconsin, along with improved bus service, expanded freeways and a fast rail line linking Chicago to Milwaukee to Madison. It could be a spur to economic development as well.

Moore acknowledged as much when she said “a new commuter line between Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee will undoubtedly offer new benefits to our communities.” She should follow her own logic and start pushing for the line at the same time that she and others push for adequate funding for buses.

We can do better. We can do both.