Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Transit Authority: Do it right

Eight regional elected officials are suddenly so enamored of a developing a Transit Authority to run local transit system that they want to develop a proposal to cram into state budget conference committee deliberations.

What a bad way to implement a potentially good idea. The mayors and county executives of Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha are important folks, but apparently have given themselves a promotion beyond the reach of their constituents, their colleagues, and reality.

Yes, transit clearly needs a broader funding base. A transit authority may be a good idea (a better one would be for the Wisconsin State Department of Transportation to quit throwing money at road-building contractors and to invest more in transit). Trying to establish a transit authority by making sure almost everyone is excluded from the discussion is simply assuring failure.

(Hmm. That wouldn't be the real motivation of some of these folks, would it?)

There is no way a hurriedly-planned RTA should be rammed through the state budget at the last minute. A governing body established that quickly probably will be poorly designed. A governing body with the authority to tax and spend that would be established without public input and without public hearing and without public debate is probably dead on arrival.

A new layer of government agreed to by eight white guy electeds in a closed room kind of reeks of old boy politics. Visions of pot-bellies and big stogies dance in my head.

How do these folks expect their colleagues on the legislative side of their respective governments to react when they learn that their elected executives decided against that "check and balance" thing? Does Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas really think the Waukesha County Board will take kindly to being shut out of the discussion about potential new taxes in Waukesha County, especially when they have no say in what kind or how much?

Maybe it wasn't stogies those guys were smokin' in that meeting.

Who serves on the RTA? Is representation proportional? Are members elected? Are they paid? Do they have taxing authority? Will it still be staffed, as is the existing RTA, by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, that suburban-based, suburban-biased agency that spends public money on things like books about itself and studies designed to win favor from black Milwaukee County supervisors?

'Scuse me for asking -- I'm only a member of the public.

A transit authority might be the way to build and run transit. It will never happen, though, unless the folks behind the plan take care to win support for the idea. This needs to be done right if a RTA for regional transit is going to be more than an election time feint.


geoff said...

I suspect you don't have too much to worry about. We've been down this path before in setting up an RTA and this one will probably get bogged down on issues of governance, allocation of $$$$, buy out value of existing equipment and buildings, pension liabilities, etc.

ΕΡΜΕΣ said...

"A new layer of government agreed to by eight white guy electeds in a closed room kind of reeks of old boy politics. Visions of pot-bellies and big stogies dance in my head."

Word. I would think they would *have* to worry about proportional representation what with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (referenced in SEWRPC's Environmental Justice document), or there'd be heck to pay.

geoff said...

Environmental justice? I suppose there could always be a first time.