State Panel Repeals Regional Transit Groups

May 04--MADISON -- The Legislature's budget committee voted Tuesday to repeal the state's regional transit authorities, including one responsible for a proposed commuter rail line from Milwaukee to Kenosha.

The Legislature gave four areas the ability to create RTAs in 2009, when Democrats were in charge. Republicans now run the Legislature, and on a 12-4 party-line vote the Joint Finance Committee voted to reverse course and eliminate the RTAs. The measure will go to the Legislature as part of the state budget once the committee finishes its work in the coming months.

After the 2009 law passed, local officials created the Southeastern RTA and the Dane County RTA, but the Chippewa Valley RTA and Chequamegon Bay RTA have not been formed.

The Southeastern RTA, or SERTA, is responsible for the proposed KRM Commuter Link rail line. It has the authority to impose an $18 per vehicle fee on rental cars but has not done so.

SERTA had $1.27 million in its coffers as of August. If it were disbanded, the money would be split equally by Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties unless the counties agree otherwise.

The committee also voted to go along with Republican Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate a $100 million bonding program for capital transit projects in southeastern Wisconsin and to eliminate all state funding -- $5 million over two years -- for bike and pedestrian paths.

In other action, the committee:

--Followed Walker's lead in transferring oversight of two college savings programs, EdVest and Tomorrow's Scholars, from the state treasurer to the state Department of Administration. That would leave managing unclaimed property as the only major duty of the state treasurer. Treasurer Kurt Schuller, a Republican, is opposed to Walker's plan even though he campaigned last year on eliminating his own job and that of the secretary of state. Schuller's plan would require amending the state constitution, which takes years.

--Voted to maintain full funding for the Wisconsin Well Woman Program, which provided nearly 10,000 screenings for breast and cervical cancer for low-income women in 2009. Walker had proposed a 10% cut in his budget but later said that was in error.

--Agreed to continue to have the state Department of Transportation mail license plate stickers to drivers annually when they renew their registration. Walker wanted to stop using the stickers to save $798,000 over two years, but lawmakers voted to reduce costs by outsourcing the work.

--Approved requiring those convicted of drunken driving to pay for having their blood drawn when they are arrested.

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