SERTA: Transit News & Notes

“Mrs. Taxpayer” in West Allis calls on Cullen, Staskunas and Sullivan to support Transit Bill

Posted in Uncategorized by SERTA on April 13, 2010

“Mrs. Taxpayer” in West Allis calls on Cullen, Staskunas and Sullivan to support Transit Bill

April 12, 11:33 PM · Charlie Rosenberg – Milwaukee Commuter Examiner

A West Allis resident who introduced herself “You can call me Mrs. Taxpayer” firmly told a listening session in a packed West Allis Library meeting room April 12 that a half cent sales tax to fund the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) is an investment well worth paying. State representatives Tony Staskunas and David Cullen, with senator Jim Sullivan, listened for nearly two hours as a standing room only crowd overwhelmingly backed Assembly Bill 282, punctuated by a handful of negative comments and some pointed questions about exactly what is in the bill. The meeting was moderated by Ruth Snedic from the League of Women Voters, who kept everyone to a strict two minute time limit.

A West Allis property owner, who has seen apartments vacated by tenants after bus service was cut in her area, called the repeated route and schedule reductions “unacceptable” to loud general applause, adding that many working mothers are unable to get home between jobs to prepare meals for their children. She was followed by a senior citizen who lost her car to a hit-and-run accident, only to find that taking the bus required unpredictable waits of twenty to forty minutes to take a five minute ride, urging the attentive legislators “Fix it gentlemen, half a percent isn’t much.”

One man even said half a percent is too little, and urged legislators to increase the tax to a full percent. Others, who rely primarily on their own cars to get around, affirmed that a good bus system is important, and that they wouldn’t mind paying an extra half-penny per dollar. A Vietnam Veteran from Cudahy announced his support; voters who arrived in wheel chairs were concerned that if MCTS shuts down or is sharply cut back, paratransit services to residents with disabilities will also be eliminated in large areas of the county. One man even pointed out the importance of the bus system in keeping drunk drivers off the road in “brew city.”

Supporters of the current transit bill, and citizens expressing doubt, found common ground, insisting that the legislature has a duty to find an acceptable solution. On the currently legislative calendar, if AB 282 is not passed by both assembly and senate before April 22, it could be dead until next year at the earliest. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 shop steward James Macon urged that legislators have no excuse not to stick around until the job is done, after its taken so long to come up with a plan. An angry constituent of Rep. Staskunas, who is doubtful about the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee rail system, but said after the meeting he’s open to seeing what happens if new funding for the Milwaukee County Transit System is approved, also said instead of passing the current bill or none at all, the legislature should stay in session all summer if necessary to do the job right.

Even vociferous opponents of the half-percent sales tax urged transit supporters to vote out current incumbents and elect legislators who would support transit properly – suggesting that funds which should have supported public transit had been diverted to other priorities. One Wauwatosa resident threatened that if the sales tax went up half a percent, she would drive to Brookfield to do all her shopping, but offered no calculation of the amount she would spend on gas doing so. Other residents countered that property taxes are a much greater consideration when families and businesses are choosing where to locate, and AB 282 will take MCTS off the property tax levy permanently.

Wauwatosa Alderman Dennis McBride, who introduced himself as an original U-Bus rider when he attended UW-Milwaukee, amused the west side crowd with an account of a constituent who had heard “some guy on talk radio named Mark” excoriating McBride’s longstanding support of public transit. When McBride called “Mark” (Belling – a notorious enemy of the Milwaukee bus system), the talk show host’s staff first said their boss was “talking about Alderman McBride,” then when McBride identified himself, announced that Belling had moved on to another subject. While attentive citizens murmured about Belling’s apparent cowardice, McBride added that the resident who called him said “I don’t ride buses,” to which he replied that if the 150,000 people who ride the bus were all driving cars, it would add a great deal of gridlock to the woman’s own use of her car.

But, he added, talk to the legislators present about it – an alderman can’t pass a state law, whereas those who can, “are probably afraid that some guy named Mark” is going to say nasty things about them if they vote for AB 282. Legislators want to know that constituents will stand by them next November if they do vote to pass AB 282 into law. McBride also complimented West Allis on the redevelopment of the 70th Street corridor, insisting that it couldn’t be maintained without good transit connections.

While support for transit from the executives of several large businesses was presented at the meeting, as it has been on many previous occasions, this did not make an overwhelmingly positive impression. After Barb Ulichney, speaking on behalf of Roundy’s supermarket CEO Robert Mariano, pointed out that MCTS is in danger of imminent bankruptcy without a new dedicated funding source, she drew sustained applause asking “What does that say about us as a community?” However, among the small handful of people opposing AB 282 – all of whom seemed unlikely to vote for any incumbent in November for any reason – were some who asked “If Chairman Bob is so concerned about public transit, why doesn’t he pay for it?”

The evident needs of many working families in Staskunas, Cullen and Sullivan’s districts clearly carried more weight, although in conversations after the meeting, some hope was expressed that the value of public transit to business and job development would secure Republican support. The most optimistic even speculated that the CEO’s might neutralize the long-standing opposition of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker.

Transit supporters will be making phone calls and hitting the streets Saturday April 17 from 1:00 to 5:00 pm, urging Milwaukee County citizens to express support for AB 282 to their assembly representatives and state senators. Volunteers are meeting at offices of the Amalgamated Transit Union, 834 N. 26th Street, between Wisconsin Avenue and Wells Street. Local 998’s legislative director, Penny Sikora, reported overwhelmingly positive responses Saturday April 10 in Rep. Mark Honadel’s district in South Milwaukee, simply talking to people out walking their dogs or gathering for barbecues, who said they would call Honadel to urge him to vote in favor.

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