While fourteen courageous state senators have pulled the plug on Scott Walker’s naked power grab, five Republican legislators are looking beyond destroying public employee unions, to dissolving local voter flexibility in managing and funding local transit needs.
Republican Senator Glenn Grothman, and assembly representatives Robin Vos, Steve Nass, Keith Ripp and Van Wanggaard don’t trust local voters to make decisions about their own local needs for bus or urban rail systems. They have introduced a bill, currently numbererd LRB−1085/1, which would take back the authority delegated to local communities by 2009 Wisconsin Act 28 (Act 28), authorizing the creation of regional transit authorities (RTAs) urgently requested by grass-roots citizen action and local government request in Dane County, the Chippewa Valley, and the Chequamegon Bay area.
Mike Mikalson, spokesperson for principal co-sponsor Rep. Steve Nass of Whitewater, made the incongruous remark that “we can let the locals come back when they have a real plan that is supported by the public.” None of the sponsors represent areas which were granted RTA’s, nor areas which have requested RTA’s. Perhaps this account for Mikalson’s apparent ignorance that RTA approval was asked for by the public, and delayed only by the vagaries of state legislative politics.
Milwaukee County voters have already voted for a measure to put the local bus and parks systems on dedicated sales tax funding, removing both from the property tax levy, in November 2008. Property owners are still asking county board candidates where their property tax relief is.
However, due to centralization of power in Madison – which Governor Walker and his Republican cohorts are showing every sign of intensifying – each community has to seek a special legislative bill before local voters can even express their preference in a binding referendum. Gov. Jim Doyle deferred to then Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s opposition, and vetoed the legislative authorization in 2009 for Milwaukee County to act on the voters’ express wishes.
In the last legislative session, AB 282 emerged from the assembly Transportation Committee with bipartisan support to establish a standard process, so communities could vote locally, without having to come back to the legislature for permission. Dithering Democratic leadership and Republican indifference combined to deny local communities this measure of self-determination.
Sponsors of the repeal bill have been coy about their reasons, but appear to object to allowing local voters to adopt a modest sales tax by referendum. If transit systems remain dependent on property taxes, it will be easier to kill them off entirely. Denying local self-determination is an odd position for Grothman, who occasionally flips up a “Don’t Tread on Me” banner at his legislative web site for a few seconds now and then. His actions would remove power from local voters and vest it in a royal governor.
Other Republicans are hedging their bets. State Sen. Alberta Darling has issued a broadly worded favorable comment on the proposals of the self-appointed Greater Milwaukee Committee, which include an RTA. Darling has not, however, endorsed specific proposals. The committee has proposed giving an RTA a dedicated share of property tax revenue, rather than dedicated sales tax funding, which will deny the property tax relief in the voter-approved initiative.