Milwaukee County Seeks More RTA Cash, Even Split in Dissolving Entity Hurts

Milwaukee County's financially strapped bus system would be harmed by a state budget provision to divide the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority's cash, County Executive Chris Abele says.

Abele wants lawmakers to reconsider a measure that would not only disband the RTA but also would split its $1.27 million bank account equally among Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties. In a letter to the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, Abele says the division would be unfair because "the vast majority of the funding was raised in Milwaukee County." A County Board committee will consider adopting a similar stand Wednesday.

Last week, the state's budget-writing panel approved an amendment from its Assembly co-chairman, state Rep. Robin Vos (RRochester), to kill the Southeastern RTA, its Dane County counterpart and two others that were authorized but never formed. Vos opposes the KRM Commuter Link, a commuter rail line that the Southeastern RTA has been planning.

The Southeastern RTA has the power to impose an $18-a-car rental car tax in its three-county area. It has never used that power, however, and instead has been funding its work from the leftover proceeds of a discontinued $2-a-car rental car tax levied by a predecessor body.

Under the Vos amendment, the Southeastern RTA's funds would be split evenly among the three counties unless they work out a different arrangement. Based on the amount remaining in the account as of August, that would be $423,440 each.

But since Milwaukee County represents most of the three-county area's population, car rentals and transit service, "The proposal to split this money in thirds between three counties would needlessly divert Milwaukee County tax dollars to other areas when our transit system faces nearly $7 million in transit cuts in the next state budget," Abele wrote to Vos and state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). "I hope that an organization intended to foster cooperation will not be dissolved in such a way as to further penalize Milwaukee County taxpayers." Gov. Scott Walker has proposed slicing transit aid by 10% in the 2011-'13 state budget, starting next year. Most of the cut would hit Milwaukee County, which runs the state's biggest bus system.

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