Walker, GOP/US House Putting State Transit On Rough Road

Monday, May 21, 2012

Attention, small-to-medium-sized Wisconsin transit riders and taxpayers:

You might want to think twice about voting for Scott Walker in two weeks, and any state or national GOP legislators when the opportunities arise as well, because the Walker budget along with conservative Congressional ideologues are going to raise your costs next year.

Bear with me here. It's a bit complicated, but the bottom line is: Transit to take more hits.

Remember that the 2011-2013 budget as approved cut state funding for transit systems by 10% for both the 2012 and 2013 years - - and also remember that Walker first proposed uncoupling transit from the Transportation Fund to compete for general fund revenues with social services, schools and other programs.

Leaving the Transportation Fund more freely available to the road-builders and their political allies.

Anyway, some background;

State transit funding to localities is split into four tiers:

*  A-1 (Milwaukee County Transit).
*  A-2 (Madison Metro) and these are the important categories for this posting:
*  B (any system in an Urbanized Area over 50,000 population that's not Milwaukee and Madison), and;
*  C (any system in a Non-Urbanized area). This has put increasing stress of maintaining these systems onto the local governments, federal government, and the fares that riders pay.

But there's a second part to this coming in 2013.

As it is, the Tier B and C systems need to come up with another 3-5% of their operating costs from either the property tax or through fares for 2012, but that includes any Act 10 'help' that they found.

But in 2013, those Tier B systems can't use the Act 10 cost reductions, but still face state aid reductions, so more stress, along with with rising expenses, like the price of fuel.

And also in 2013, new Census figures will effect Urbanized Areas in two costly ways:

  1. As part of Federal Transit Administration transit rules, Urbanized Areas that go over 200,000 population lose their ability to use Federal operating assistance, and both Green Bay and Appleton went over that threshold in 2010.

This issue got coverage in the Fox Valley, but not statewide:
Both Valley Transit and Green Bay Metro face losing up to 1.5 million dollars each year in assistance to operate the bus systems due to a formula that cuts off funding for regions with a population over 200,000.  This formula works for large metropolitan areas such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles that have large systems with a concentrated population.  The formula does not work for smaller systems like those in the Appleton and Green Bay areas, Rep. Petri and Rep. Ribble agree.
As it stands right now, those two cities would lose about $4.8 million in Federal aid, and because they're currently part of Tier B, that will affect all cities in that tier.

So that means all of the following systems currently stand to have to make up about 7% of their costs through property taxes and fares in 2013, without the "help" from Act 10:

    Appleton, Green Bay, Eau Claire, Racine, Kenosha, Janesville, Wausau, Waukesha/Waukesha  Commuter, Washington County, Ozaukee County, Sheboygan, Oshkosh, La Crosse, Beloit, Superior

    And taxi systems in Sun Prairie, Stoughton, Chippewa Falls and Onalaska.

The best way to change this would be to allow Green Bay and Appleton-sized systems to use Operating Assistance, but the Tea Party caucus in Congress - - being against both 'big' government and any successes for President Obama - - won't approve a long-term, national transportation bill.

So as it stands right now - - and given the uncertainties on Capitol Hill - -  there could be massive cuts in service and fare increases for all these Wisconsin systems in 2013, unless Congress acts definitively.

    2. West Bend grew enough that it is now considered an Urbanized Area by the Census; West Bend's sprawl was so great that Hartford (which has a city taxi system) is now also included in the West Bend Urbanized area.

As a result, there might be a little more federal money that gets thrown to the Tier B systems, but there are more municipalities in Tier B fighting it out for the same amount of state aid in 2013.

And because they go from Non-Urbanized to Urbanized, and Tier C to Tier B, these systems will have to come up with another 10-11% next year to keep their systems running (in West Bend, this is about $85,000, in Hartford around $25,000).

Officials from Washington County, West Bend, and Hartford are to talk soon - - perhaps this week - -  with SEWRPC and WisDOT officials to discuss the effects of these changes on their systems, and the huge increase in reporting responsibilities that will result from becoming urbanized systems.

Hey. some folks in the 262 wanted growth, growth, growth...sprawl - - and now they're going to pay for it.

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