Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Monona Transit Committee Rejects Referendum

The Monona Transit Commission, by a 4-0 vote, passed a recommendation to the Monona city council  against placing a proposed referendum on the November ballot. Alder Munson, members Nelson, Runk, and Stolper voted in favor of the motion. Chair Veserat did not vote (chair only votes in case of a tie).

Here is the proposed question:

“Shall commuter rail from the City of Middleton to the Town of Burke be funded by a half-cent (0.5%) increase in the sales tax?"

The Committee had RTA Chair Dick Wagner in attendance. He informed the committee that the RTA is still working on a transit plan. The committee also heard from alders Kugle, Busse, Wiswell, and me. (Alder Busse is undecided and didn't tip his hand tonight.) County Supervisor Schmidt was also in attendance and spoke briefly.

Several Monona residents spoke in against the referendum. Three non-Monona speakers, Bill Howard, Bill Richardson, and Bob Schaefer, spoke in favor the referendum.

The item will be back before the council on September 20.

I get it. The conservative crowd thinks their anti-train tack is good politics. That's why they want it on as many ballots as possible in November. 

But, to my mind, it's bad public policy to ask voters to vote on something that has not been proposed and will not be proposed. The RTA will not propose a transit system that only includes a commuter train.

And the question is worded to maximize the 'no' vote. State law allows the RTA to raise the sales tax by up to 0.5%. So the question really asks "do you want to allocate all of the money only to commuter rail?"

Someone casting a no vote could:

* Support a sales tax increase between 0.1% and 0.5%; AND
* Support spending most of the sales tax increase on commuter rail, but not all of it; OR
* Support spending a little of it on commuter rail, but most of it on increased bus service; OR
* Support spending all of the money on buses and none on commuter trains; OR
* Oppose any sales tax increase period.

Who is left to vote yes? Only voters who want to raise the sales tax the maximum legal amount and spend 100% of it on commuter rains and none on bus service or any other transit option.

If, as its supporters claim, they just want to let voters express their voice about commuter rail, a better question would have been, "Shall commuter rail from the City of Middleton to the Town of Burke be funded by any increase in the sales tax?"

But really, why not wait until a plan is proposed by the RTA and then we can all vote on a question that will actually man something?


  1. Glad to hear it. I don't know if my letter to the alders was read into record, but for anyone interested here are my thoughts:

    Dear Alders Veserat and Munson,

    I am writing to urge the members of the transit committee to reject the proposal to include a referendum on one proposal of the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in the upcoming elections. The current referendum serves only to obfuscate the ideas behind the RTA, a group that could provide a critical central warehouse for transit solutions in our area. The question hand picks one idea among a portfolio of possible transit solutions and, in doing to, trains the attention of the voter on rail lines that will not serve Monona. Let me save you some time: of course this question would not pass as written. But the point of the question isn't really to solicit feedback from our community, it is to add kindling to the pile that some local and regional politicians are attempting to stoke under the fledgling RTA. The referendum question is neither relevant to the problem of transit in our community nor to the goals of establishing a regional transit authority. Instead, its goal is to hasten the solidification of voter opinion against a regional transit movement that is still evolving. Rather than wasting our time, the members of the transit committee and the council should be focusing on providing forward-thinking ideas that will help expand Monona's mass transit options. The politics behind this vote are transparent and are as disappointing as those that have led to gridlock in Washington DC. Unfortunately, here they will lead to literal gridlock on our roadways if they are allowed to further confuse the public about the RTA. Please read my opposition into the record of the transit meeting on Wednesday as I will be unable to attend in person.


    Jim Keck

  2. Jim,

    The Mass Transit Commission or Authority (they don't know which they are) did not read your words into the record. The chair said you only wanted to go on record as opposed to the referendum.

    I am sorry that we didn't get to hear your words, as you make the points in concise and clear fashion. I especially like your gridlock comparison. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the public.

  3. Thanks Jim and Doug, since I've been out of touch on transit the blog and Jim's statement have been a great reorientation.

    Mike Meulemans