In Sunday’s MJS there was a round table of community leaders on regionalization.
Can we all get along? Region’s leaders debate about challenges ahead
Apparently not from these exchanges. First, on transit.
[Milwaukee Mayor Tom] Barrett: Let’s go back to the $91.5 million, because I think that that’s a prime example. This is $91.5 million that’s been sitting on the table for 16 years . . . .
I thought, OK, clearly there’s an impasse here; Scott’s interested in buses, what I’ll do is I’ll propose that half of this money go to rapid transit buses, because that’s what Scott’s interested in, and we’ll put the other half into a rail base system downtown that complements the KRM.
To me, that’s the seeds of a compromise.
[Milwaukee County Executive Scott] Walker: It’s like saying to encourage compromise in something else, we’ll give you water, but we won’t ask for it to be returned clean. . . .
My response to that is I looked at the $91 and a half million, and I said, I’m not going to accept a compromise just for the sake of saying I got a deal if that undermines the Milwaukee County transit system and the bus system.
I know we have difference of opinion on that, but I fundamentally believe if I take half of that money . . . away from improving and upgrading the bus base system, put it into a system that’s not going to serve the largest group of people that we need to help, the transit-dependent population on the north and northwest side of the City of Milwaukee, and then create a system that longterm is going to compete for federal and state dollars against the bus system, which is going to serve the overwhelming majority of people who are transit-dependent, to me I don’t see that as a compromise, I see that as a direct hit on the bus system.
To me, a compromise would be the part we both agree on, the bus rapid transit, and say I won’t even spend it, we can leave some of that money on the table, have that debate another day, leave that aside.
Barrett: But you can’t have it both ways, Scott, because the other thing you said was, wait a minute, the city’s bus plan, they stole from the county.
We didn’t steal a bus plan from the county; we gave you what you wanted.
Walker: And if I give you the other part that you want, it will hurt the bus system.
Barrett: Just so you know, this is where there is a fundamental disagreement.
I think that the Milwaukee County Transit System is in a world of hurt.
Walker: Absolutely! Which has nothing to do with the $91 million.
Barrett: . . . And having a downtown circulator is not going to save the system, and it’s not going to ruin the system. The problems are far more deep than.
Walker: By 2010, they’re going to face some major problems without some alternative, which is why I put an idea on the table.
Some people like it, some people don’t. But with or without the $91 million and with or without our ideas, there needs to be a solution long term to funding the transit system in Milwaukee County.
Your point about it being hurt, though, is like saying the transit system has a cut, and now giving it another cut isn’t going to hurt the system.
Barrett: Scott, correct me if I’m wrong, I think anything that contains rail, you will oppose.
Walker: Correct. Because it takes from the bus system. . . .
Even if I said I love rail, and actually there are other forms of rail I’ve actually shown support for, but the funding for KRM doesn’t take away from the transit system.
[Sheldon] Lubar: But you’re saying that if you have a simple circulator on rail, that that’s going to destroy the bus system?
Walker: No, no. I’m saying it’s already . . . if you’re already creeping down that path.
Lubar: We want a regional rail system, don’t we?
[Rosemary] Potter: I think we all do.
The only thing, seemingly, Walker and Barrett could agree on is that there is no consensus about regional rail.
Walker: It that’s the case, you’re living in a different world than I am, because I repeatedly hear people that want some option of KRM, but having a regional rail system. . . .
There isn’t a consensus on that issue.
Barrett: I would agree. There’s not a consensus on that.
Walker: We’ve had this for 16 years, so in some ways, I hear this as though we just got it a year ago and I’m the only one holding us up.
Tom Ament held us up, John Norquist held us up, Tommy Thompson held us up, there’s a lot of people who’ve been a part of not making this happen. . . .
Now, if the city doesn’t like the plan we have, the city’s got a different plan. . . . I said we can rearrange those, to me, I’ll compromise. . . .
Let’s start out with a couple pilots, and we can show the federal government and we can show the Congress that we’re starting to use that money. . . .
To me, that would be a compromise, saying let’s move forward with the piece of it, and we can come back and debate the larger issue in the future.
And at the end,
Barrett: You’re trying to isolate Milwaukee County?
[Former Lt. Gov. Margaret] Farrow: No, no. I’m saying we already are very much part of your solution.
Barrett: But you said this is not Milwaukee or New Berlin. Now you’re saying like it’s my problems?
Farrow: No, no, no, no. Tom, you misunderstood me. That isn’t where I was going at all. . . . Our counties are already very supportive through the way Wisconsin runs our shared revenue formulas.We’re here with you. We’re helping you.
Barrett: Man, if it feels so good, how come it feels so bad? The state Assembly just tried to take $28 million of shared revenue away from the city of Milwaukee.
Farrow: But, by contrast, your county and your city are much higher up what comes in than all of them around there.
Barrett: We have the fourth-highest percentage of children in the country living in poverty, and you’re making it sound like you’re doing us a favor.
Farrow: No. I’m saying you’ve already got your fellow counties around you helping with the problem with no credit given, which is why this area doesn’t have a positive attitude about itself.
Barrett: I’ll tell you what I need. I need the legislators from the greater Milwaukee region who don’t live in the city of Milwaukee to speak up at the state Assembly and say, “Why are you whacking the City of Milwaukee with a $28 million cut in shared revenue?”
The state Assembly by picking four communities in this state – Milwaukee, Beloit, Racine and Superior – and just taking a hammer to them. I don’t feel the love. I’m sorry. I don’t feel the love right now.
Not exactly Kumbaya, is it?
Not to say it was all bad. The fact that they are talking is promising, I think. I liked what Sheldon Lubar had to say,
We have an outmoded, outdated governance structure, and it is splintered. It is so structured that of the county tax bill, Scott Walker, and Mayor Barrett, when he sends out property tax bills, has control of probably 25% of the expenses that befall the average taxpayer.
What I’m getting at is that we have a system of unelected officials who have taxing and spending authority, and there is no oversight on that taxing and spending authority, nor, as I look at it, is there any coordination of it.
If everyone is working together and feel like everyone is in it together, things can get done.
Unfortunately, we are far from that right now.
Video of the round table is here.