No Runny Eggs

The repository of one hard-boiled egg from the south suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (and the occassional guest-blogger). The ramblings within may or may not offend, shock and awe you, but they are what I (or my guest-bloggers) think.

Archive for the 'Choo-choos' Category

March 29, 2011

$100,000 per commuting beneficiary is still too much

by @ 18:12. Filed under Choo-choos, Politics - Wisconsin.

I’m disappointed to learn that Scott Walker has applied for at least $150 million in Porkulus funds for the Hiawatha Milwaukee-to-Madison line to turn that into a “bit faster than car speed” line. Despite it being one of Amtrak’s top 10 lines and setting a new ridership record of 783,060 riders one-way passenger trips in FY2010 , it still needed a $5.5 million subsidy (90% covered by OtherPeoplesMoney in the form of federal money with a very-minor Illinois contribution) last year.

Once one strips away the 100 people per weekend day from even the projected 850,000 one-way passenger trips, that leaves roughly 1,500 daily commuters who rather like the idea of paying less for getting down to where they really want to be than the average parking rate in downtown Chicago while sucking the difference between what they pay and what it costs out of your pocketbook.

January 24, 2011

Number of the day – well under 400

by @ 7:37. Filed under Choo-choos.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that would be the total number of people who decided to take the train to Chicago from Milwaukee on Sunday. The record-setting number was a bit over triple the usual 100 people who make the trip on a typical Sunday.

Yep; we really needed that Milwaukee-to-Madison Lobbyist HO train </sarcasm>

December 11, 2010

Stripping away the histrionics – off the rails edition

by @ 6:54. Filed under Choo-choos, Politics - Wisconsin.

When one looks past the latest whining from those deeply saddened by the death of the Lobbyist HO Train that was going to run from Milwaukee to Madison, the bottom line becomes far less than what they claim:

  • Instead of building 6 trains (2 trains for the now-dead Lobbyist HO Train, 2 trains for the Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago, and 2 trains for an Oregon line) before shutting down the production line, Talgo will build 4 trains before shutting down the production line.
  • Instead of the maintenance facility maintaining 4 trains (the now-dead Lobbyist HO Trains and the Talgo-built trains for the Hiawatha line), the maintenance facility will maintain 2 trains (the Talgo-built trains for the Hiawatha line).

November 8, 2010

Lobbyist HO Train derailed

by @ 15:56. Filed under Choo-choos, Politics - Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin State Journal carried an Associated Press dispatch saying that, a week after committing Wisconsin to spend all $810 million of Porkulus money to create a train to make lobbyists think they’re living in southern Maryla…er, link Milwaukee and Madison by car-speed passenger rail, Jim Doyle has cried, “UNCLE!”

From the relevant part of the press release/rant (courtesy Vicki McKenna on her Facebook page, who broke out the U-word):

While I could force the issue, I believe that this project will only be successful in the long run if the State of Wisconsin and the U.S. Department of Transportation are strong partners. For that reason, I have put the project on pause, so that the U.S. DOT and the Governor-elect can confer about the future of the high speed rail project. If Governor-elect Walker opposes the project, U.S. DOT has made it clear that the money will go to one of the many other states that intend to move forward with high speed passenger rail.

Ding-dong, car-speed rail’s dead.

September 8, 2010

Presenting the Sgt. Schultz administration, rail edition

by @ 21:35. Filed under Choo-choos, Politics - Wisconsin.

The MacIver Institute is looking into the sudden disappearance of Oconomowoc from the list of the Milwaukee-Madison car-speed rail line stops after the locals started questioning the train. They filed a pair of Open Records requests with the governor’s office and the Department of Transportation asking for all records of discussions about that station between July 1 and August 16, when the plug was pulled.

The DOT hasn’t responded yet, but the Sgt. Schult…er, Doyle administration responded thusly:

We conducted a search for records related to your request and found no responsive records in the custody of the Governor’s Office.

That leaves three probabilities:

  • The Cleaners have been working overtime in the governor’s mansion.
  • They never intended on having any stops between Milwaukee and Madison to make the ramming process that much faster.
  • Doyle really believes he’s above the law.

The overseas betting lines are now open. I hear “none of the above” will get you 1,000,000-1.

July 15, 2010

Thursday Hot Read – Patrick McIlheran’s “The Great Train Robbery”

by @ 10:04. Filed under Choo-choos, Politics - Wisconsin.

Not only did I “borrow” the concept from Charlie Sykes, but today I also am “borrowing” the source material. While Charlie focused on the killing of Badger Coach (as 71,000 of the 120,000 who take Badger Coach would, at least theoretically, go from the unsubsidized Badger buses to the heavily-subisidized choo-choo), I’ll focus on another part of the piece:

But even when the train stops in downtown Madison (or Milwaukee), passengers will have to get to or from it. That’s why that dream trip involves a train to the train. The $220 million cost of Madison’s planned light rail system is not included in the high-speed train’s cost. Nor is the $100 million cost of the downtown trolley that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett wants to ferry people from the train station.

And even with that kind of extra money, the fact is that most trips either start or end somewhere other than near the train. Clients incorrigibly move their offices out to the University Research Park, seven miles west of Monona Terrace. Or you move to Franklin.

All this crimps the speed advantage of a train when you add the time it takes to wait for the light rail, to ride it, to transfer to the big train, to wait for the big train to leave.

Interestingly, buses have the advantage here. Meier, whose nostalgia appears limited to having found and bought a 1957 GMC model his company once used, notes that Badger used to have a depot in downtown Madison. Not anymore: It was scarcely used, so the company closed the depot and took customers where they wanted to go.

“That’s one of our advantages as a bus,” says Meier. With tires instead of tracks, “if a stop isn’t very popular, we can stop going there” and instead go directly where people prefer. “We can adjust.”

P-Mac inexplicably forgot about the several-hundred-million-dollar local-bus-service-speed KRM disaster, for which a transfer is also required. Including KRM still doesn’t make it any easier for the train crowd to get to Franklin, or the North Shore, or Waukesha, or…(insert itinerary that doesn’t include the Lower East Side here).

There’s actually one more thing that I should touch on:

The money is part of $8 billion being passed out by the Obama administration in grants to spur new high-speed passenger trains nationwide. Wrapped into the much larger Obama stimulus package, the money is a product of Washington’s lowered inhibitions when it comes to getting value for the taxpayer dollar.

Wisconsin’s grant specifically was part of a scheme to tie Midwest cities to Chicago. Backers speak of trains displacing short-haul flights — so instead of us changing planes in Chicago, we’ll change trains there, or we’ll just do business there and forget about traveling on to St. Louis or Singapore.

That brings up another thing – there is no direct rail service between either Madison or Milwaukee and either of Chicago’s airports, nor would there be direct rail service between Madison and either downtown Chicago or Mitchell International. It would be a rather lengthy train trip with a transfer (or two to CTA’s El for the Chicago airports) if one wanted to get to either Chicago or a real airport from Madison. The funny thing is, even Amtrak provides direct bus service between Madison and downtown Chicago, while private bus companies provide direct service between Madison and all the major points of interest in Milwaukee and Chicago.

June 26, 2009

The penultimate budget is in the pipeline

Revisions and extensions part 13 (7:09 pm 6/26/2009) – Since the DemoBudget has passed the Assembly 51-46, and we’re now at the final act of the biennial sign-and-hack from Gov. Jim Doyle, I’ll be updating a fresh post rather than this one.

Revisions and extensions part 4 (12:42 am 6/26/2009) – Moved up to the top (originally posted 6/25/2009 at 10:58 pm) with the 17-15 Senate passage (despite no bill text available). The most-vulnerable Dem Senator, Jim Sullivan, was again allowed to vote “no”. Start packing your bags.

R&E part 5 (12:59 am 6/26/2009) – Finally found the amendment text, which modifies the Senate version (as amended by a pair of amendments). Sorry I don’t have a clean-text version.

I have to thank Kevin Fischer, Sen. Mary Lazich’s (R-New Berlin) aide, for pointing me to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s comparison between the Assembly changes, Senate changes, and Conference Committee’s changes to the Joint Finance Committee Daughter-of-Necrobudget. This will be the version that Jim “Chainsaw” Doyle (WEAC/HoChunk-For Sale) will take his veto pen to because under state law, it cannot be amended by the full Legislature. Of course, as of 10:47 pm, WisPolitics’ budget blog doesn’t have the full text of the final substitute to AB75 (the budget bill), but apparently the 24-hour clock started ticking about 8:15 pm.

I haven’t done a hard analysis yet, but it just keeps on getting worse. From Sen. Lazich:

  • Total spending is up $4,000,000,000, or 6%.
  • The state-level/RTA-level increases in taxes are $2,100,000,000.
  • Total property taxes will go up $1,500,000,000, with the median home property taxes going up $90 at the end of this year and $130 at the end of 2010.
  • Borrowing increases by $2,900,000,000.
  • The structural deficit (how far in the hole the FY2012-2013 budget will start) is $2,300,000,000.

In case you missed the math, the total 2-year tax increase will be $3,600,000,000. There’s also a few kickers (straight to the nuts delivered with steel-toed boots) I want to get out there tonight:

  • The statutory general fund reserve will be halved to $65,000,000 for the duration of the budget. That is necessary because the FY2011 “net balance”, with that change, would be $149,100. No, that is not a misprint – that is less than the salary of the average full-tenured UW professor.
  • Drop the current 60% exemption on long-term capital gains to 30%, except for certain farm property/equipment. That represents a 2-year $242,500,000 tax increase from current law and a $72,300,000 tax increase from the Joint Finance Committee/governor version of the budget.
  • The KRM/SERTA Assembly provisions pretty much are final, except that it wouldn’t be the sole clearinghouse for federal grant money for the transit companies/authorities in southeast Wisconsin. To resummarize:
    • The car-rental tax in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha Counties would go up from the current $2 collected by the soon-to-be-replaced Regional Transit Taxing Authority (the one that used $450,000 of its $500,000 tax take to lobby for higher taxes) to $18, $2 higher than the JFC/Senate version.
    • The Racine bus system and Kenosha bus system would each get $1/car rental from that only if the host city matched the funds. Rep. Robin Vos (R-Racine) told me earlier this evening that the only acceptable method would be a $10/car wheel tax.
    • Any other community in either Racine County or Kenosha County that wants a stop on the KRM would need to dedicate a “sustainable funding mechanism” to their respective county seat’s bus system. I failed to ask Rep. Vos what that definition was, but I suspect that it would also be a $10/car wheel tax.
  • The “prevailing wage” provisions would apply to both SERTA and the Milwaukee Transit Taxing Authority (the former was added by the Senate, the latter by the conference committee).
  • Speaking of the Milwaukee Transit Taxing Authority, the Assembly 0.65% sales tax plan is adopted, with Lee Holloway getting a third person on the board.
  • The Chippewa Valley and Chequamegon Bay (Bayfield/Ashland Counties, which I somehow missed in the Senate version) RTAs live on, but the Fox Valley RTA is dead.
  • Sen. Jeff Plale’s last-ditch attempt to get the state to pay for 75% of a I-94/Drexel Interchange instead of the usual 50% (since Franklin and Northwestern Mutual reneged on verbal agreements to pay for 25% and Oak Creek will not pay the full 50% local cost) is out, which means no I-94/Drexel Interchange.

There’s a lot more, but I’m too tired to keep going.

Revisions/extensions (11:15 pm 6/25/2009) – I decided to add the major points of the KRM tax to this post.

R&E parts 2 and 3 (12:36 am 6/26/2009 and 12:37 am 6/26/2009) – Good news/bad news on the illegal alien front – the illegal-alien drivers’ licenses are out, but the illegal-alien in-state tuition is still in.

Also, despite the continued lack of the actual bill over at WisPolitics, the Senate has taken this up, mostly because Alan Lassee (R-De Pere) is absent attending to his ill wife, and thus two Dems can safely vote “no” lost track of the math.

R&E parts 6 (8:26 am 6/26/2009) and 7 (8:31 am 6/26/2009) – Jo Egelhoff (who gave me entirely too much credit) found that card-check union organizing for UW research assistants is in the budget. AFSCME and SEIU bought this government, and the Dems, specifically Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan and Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, who snuck it in in conference, are bound and determined to give them their moneys’ worth.

Meanwhile, Christian Schneider found that the chiropractors got another leg up on regular doctors. Any bets on the donation splits from them in the 2010 election cycle?

R&E part 8 (9:03 am 6/26/2009)As noted above, the mandate for a UW-Stevens Point school of nursing and the requirement to spend just over $3 million for advance planning for a new UW-Madison school of nursing building, slated for construction in the FY2012-2013 budget, is in there. Paging East Side Plale.

R&E part 9 (2:34 pm 6/26/2009) – Brett Healy over at the MacIver Institute lists the dirty dozen items in this version of the budget. Items I haven’t listed yet:

  • Use $3,333,400 in general revenues to provide “engineering services” in Milwaukee, made out of whole cloth by Decker and Sheridan.
  • Rob $1,800,000 from five Milwaukee-area school districts, Oconomowoc, Mequon-Thiensville, Fox Point-Bayside and Nicolet, and give that to the Madison school district, again created out of whole cloth by Decker and Sheridan.
  • Full-speed death of the Qualified Economic Offer, same as Doyle’s, the Senate’s, and WEAC’s wishes (once again, the purchaser of this government gets what it bought).
  • Again out of whole cloth by Decker and Sheridan, extend in-state tuition benefits in the UW system to all foreign nationals, not just the illegal aliens I noted earlier. Supposedly said foreign nationals will need to swear that they either applied to become permanent residents or that they will once and if they become eligible to do so.
  • Make sure the portions of state government that get shut down as the result of either the hiring freeze or a furlough stays shut down, just as the Senate and AFSCME ordered (again, the purchaser of this government gets what it bought).
  • Again out of whole cloth by Decker and Sheridan, move up the start date of the new $0.75/line/month 911 fee from the later of 10/1 or 3 months after the budget is signed to 9/1, for an additional $5,000,000.
  • Again out of whole cloth by Decker and Sheridan, redirect $9,200,000 of a $37,000,000 raid from the Petroleum Inspection Fund (funded by a $0.02/gallon tax on gas and diesel) from the transportation fund to the general fund.

I can only wonder just how much more will be found after the 24-hour circuit breaker the Assembly has gets reset. In fact, I’m surprised that in their rush to remake the entirety of state government into a secretive chamber of lawmakers lawgivers, the Democrats didn’t get rid of that circuit breaker.

R&E part 10 (3:22 pm 6/26/2009) – While mandatory auto insurance, first put in by the Senate, as well as the highest minimums in the country, first put in by Doyle, is part of this, Recess Supervisor found a pair of stinkers added in out of whole cloth by Decker and Sheridan at the insistence of Pedro Colon and the Legislative Black Caucus – new insurees can’t be put into a high-risk category because they never had insurance before, and insurance companies can’t assign risk based on where a vehicle is kept. That’s right, those of you upstate and in the burbs get to subsidize the accident- and theft-prone in the hearts of Milwaukee, Madison, and Racine. Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) has more on this, including the fact that the soon-to-be-law Wisconsin ban on area-based risk will be the the only one of its kind in the nation, and that other states (like Michigan) rejected it. Once again, Michigan beats us.

R&E part 11 (yes, we are that far, and there’s still time before the Assembly rubber-stamps this, 4:58 pm 6/26/2009) – Cathy Stepp found a stinker of an item from the Assembly version that popped back in – the allowance of the Department of Commerce to promulgate the initial rules for the new construction contractor registration program as “emergency rules without the finding of an emergency”, with the rule lasting . Using the emergency rules power under s. 227.24 of the state statues means no prior consideration for small business as provided by s. 227.114, no review regarding its effect on housing as provided by s. 227.115, no economic impact report as provided by s. 227.137, no advance copies provided to the Legislative Council staff as provided by s. 227.15, no prior hearings or notice thereof as provided by s. 227.16, 227.17 and 227.18, no prior legislative review as provided by s. 227.19, and no time to prepare for its implementation between its publication in the official state newspaper (or state website as provided by other provisions in the budget) and the first day of the following month as provided by s. 227.21.

There’s more agencies that get to implement “emergency rules” without the finding of an emergency, including the Department of Revenue’s new requirement to impose a 1% tax withholding on independent contractors (originally in the Assembly version).

R&E part 12 (5:03 pm 6/26/2009) – Greg Bump, who has been the on-the-scene man, reports that, after agreeing to waive the 24-hour rule, the Assembly will begin their rubber-stamping process at 5:30. He also posted the request from the little piggies known as the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities to Doyle to use his veto pen to eliminate the 7/1/2011 sunset of the $0.75/line police/fire protection tax (formerly known as the 911 tax) and eliminate the loosening of fireworks laws. I’m shocked, SHOCKED to see the spenders squealing for the continuation of a brand-new tax.

As an aside, I will be creating a fresh post when the Assembly does rubber-stamp what Kevin Binversie has freshly deemed the DemoBudget. Very apt name, don’t you think?

June 17, 2009

RTA Madness – Senate edition

The Senate passed their own version of Daughter-of-Necrobudget on a virtual-party-line vote (Jim Sullivan, the target of a recall, was allowed to vote no along with every Republican). Others will cover the rest of the changes, but since I’m a laser on the RTAs, I’ll distill the differences between the Assembly version and the Senate version (thanks again to Greg Bump over at WisPolitics for doing the dirty work):

  • The Chippewa and Fox Valley RTAs are out.
  • The provision to allow Dane County to use its sales tax to fund roads is also out.
  • The Southeast RTA is once again solely focused on the choo-choo, with all funding to the existing Racine and Kenosha buses (i.e. the additional $2 car-rental tax to make the total $18) as well as the requirement of Racine’s and Kenosha’s suburbs to fund the bus systems to get a KRM stop out.
  • The Milwaukee County Transit Authority gets the “Regional” title back, with the sales tax bumped up to 1.0% and the “parks, culture and (county) emergency medical services” joining transit in the 85% (no percentage specified for each category) not allocated to municipal police, fire and EMS (allocated on a per-capita basis).

On to conference, where I expect nothing less than the worst of all worlds.

June 12, 2009

RTA madness expanded, explained – and revised

by @ 16:55. Filed under Choo-choos, Politics - Wisconsin, Taxes.

Revisions/extensions (4:55 pm 6/12/2009) – I’ve moved this post (originally published 4:28 pm 6/11/2009) to the top. The summary from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau is in (pages 38-42), and things get worse. I’ll clear up the original post a bit, and explain below.

WisPolitics’ Budget Blog reports that a rather sweeping amendment to the various Regional “Transit” Authorities contained in the Daughter-of-Necrobudget has been made by Assembly Democrats:

  • The Fox River Valley RTA in the governor’s budget has been restored, including the 0.5% sales tax.
  • The Chippewa River Valley also gets an RTA, with an unknown funding source a 0.5% sales tax.
  • In a reversal of the usual car-taxes-to-transit subsidy, Dane County, and only Dane County, will get to use its 0.5% RTA sales tax to repair roads.
  • At the insistence of the Federal Transit Administration, the KRM taxing authority’s responsibility is expanded to include Racine’s and Kenosha’s bus systems, paid for by a $1 car-rental tax in the cities of Racine and Kenosha (which makes the total KRM RTA car-rental tax initially $17 in Racine and Kenosha; it is unknown whether, like the larger car-rental tax, this will be auto-indexed for inflation) an additional $2 car-rental tax in Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha Counties, raising the total tax to $18 per car-rental transaction. Of note, the bus systems only get the tax money if the cities raise funding of their transit systems (i.e. raise local taxes) by that amount.
  • The new sales tax the Milwaukee County Board gets to levy for their Regional Transit Taxing Authority drops from 1.00% to 0.65%, but instead of also funding parks, cultural, and emergency medical services programs, 23% of the new tax (or 0.15% on the bottom line) will go to “offsetting police and fire costs in communities in Milwaukee County”. If you believe that will go anyplace other than the City of Milwaukee, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

So, why all the changes, and why now? Apparently, despite being close to $2,000,000,000,000 in the red for the 2010 budget, the federal government has enough money to reward those who grow government and raise taxes by creating RTAs by September.

Yes, that’s right. Much like the demand by the Assembly Democrats to the cities of Racine and Kenosha to raise local taxes so that they get a pittance of an amount from a state-imposed tax increase, the federal government is demanding local tax increases and increased amounts and levels of government to get a pittance of an amount from the already-overtapped federal Treasury.

Begin expanded explanation. Regarding the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (the rebadged KRM Authority):

  • The car-rental tax is increased from $16 per transaction to $18 per transaction, indexed for inflation.
  • The city of Racine’s bus system would get $1 of that, and the city of Kenosha’s bus system would get $1 of that, only if each city “generates new funds to match the vehicle rental tax revenues”.
  • No other community in either Racine County or Kenosha County gets a stop on the choo-choo unless they provide a “sustainable funding mechanism” of an unspecified amount to contribute to their county seat’s existing bus system.
  • Instead of empowering the Milwaukee County and Racine County executives to make appointments, it depowers the Kenosha County Executive and gives the Kenosha County board chair that seat’s appointment power.
  • The SERTA will become the sole clearinghouse of grants made to the FTA by all three counties.
  • Pedro Colon gets a KRM stop at Lincoln Ave. and Bay St. to go along with his previously-porked-in National Ave. stop.

Regarding the Milwaukee Transit Taxing Authority:

  • Delete the “Regional” from the name.
  • The 0.15% sales tax imposed for “police and fire protection” will be split based on the number of officers and firefighters (i.e. almost all the money’s going to the city).
  • Specify that the MTA would be a tax-exempt entity.
  • No word on whether the 15% requirement to the city of Milwaukee to run the mini-choo-choo is still in.

Regarding the Chippewa Valley Transit Authority:

  • Eau Claire County would be first, pending both county board and voter approval.
  • Any municipality that has any presence in Eau Claire County would automatically be part of this.
  • If it is established, Chippewa County could join the same way (county board and voter approval), with the decision to either join or leave binding on all municipalities in Chippewa County.
  • Membership, with 4-year terms, would be set by each member county, with no more than 17 total and including three members appointed by each county member’s county executive and approved by the county board (one of which would be an initial 2-year term, then 4-year terms after that), a member appointed by the mayor of each member county’s largest city and approved by that city’s common council (an initial 2-year term, then 4-year terms after that) and a member appointed by the governor.
  • The funding source would be a 0.5% sales tax.

Once again, the screwing gets deeper. Maybe I should hire Moron Pundit to put together a way-NSFW graphic.

Revisions/extensions (9:12 am 6/14/2009) – I have to thank Lance Burri for the Rule 2 boost.

May 26, 2009

NML wants to soak you so it doesn’t have to pay

(H/T – Patrick McIlheran via Dad29)

Edward Zore, CEO of Northwestern Mutual Life, had perhaps the dumbest letter ever published in yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Let’s start by fisking said letter:

I am writing to express my support for the creation of a three-county Regional Transit Authority and a viable, dedicated funding source for transit and Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail. As CEO of a major business in Milwaukee County, I know dedicated funding for transit is critical to the future success of my business.

The local business community in Milwaukee is solidly behind the current RTA’s recommendations to shift funding for transit to a dedicated sales tax. Many opponents of this transit proposal argue that shifting transit from the property tax to a sales tax is anti-business or will drive business away. That is categorically untrue.

As one of the commenters over at P-Mac’s place said, I wonder if Zore’s attitude would change if insurance premiums on NML policies were subject to that sales tax. Dad29 notes that businesses like NML pay a lot in property tax, but don’t exactly pay a lot in sales tax.

A quick point or two of order – while there is a 3-county transit authority in the state budget being worked ov…er, on now (and indeed, there is a nascient 3-county RTA now), its sole purpose will be the KRM, and its major funding source would be a massive increase in the car-rental tax (from $2/rental to $16/rental). There also is in that budget a Milwaukee County-only RTA, which would be funded by a 17+% increase in the sales tax (from 5.6%-5.85% to 6.6%-6.85%).

What that sales tax will kill is retail businesses, especially those near the county borders and those specializing in high-cost items. It doesn’t take all that much for someone living in, say, Wauwatosa to go to Brookfield for a fine four-star dinner or a camera and spend less money.

Let’s continue…

Northwestern Mutual has two major offices in Milwaukee County and employs a significant number of residents of Wauwatosa. Our current transit system is so inadequate and obsolete that my employees cannot get from our downtown office to our Franklin location on the Milwaukee County Transit System. The lack of available transit in this region has a much greater impact on my company than a shift in how we pay for transit.

P-Mac points out that the beautiful and recently-expanded Franklin campus is 1 1/2 miles away from the nearest bus stop (Route 27), and well past the point where the sidewalks on 27th St. ends (1 mile, to be exact).

I do have a point of order – there was, for a while, a limited-schedule extension of Route 27, Route 227, that went past the NML Franlkin campus to the Franklin Industrial Park south of Ryan Rd. between 46th St. and 60th St. However, that route was cancelled due to low ridership. Guess not many NML workers rode the bus out to Franklin.

Let’s continue…

Of the top 50 most populated U.S. cities or regions, only seven do not have or are not developing rail transit. Wisconsin is already behind other regions in this regard, and without a stable bus transit system – much less improved transit and commuter rail links connecting Milwaukee to other regions – southeastern Wisconsin will be left behind as the state’s talent pool is attracted to other developing regions. Those remaining in Wisconsin cannot get to their jobs.

STOP THE TAPE!!! Just how are enough NML employees making it out to Franklin for not one, but two good-sized office buildings if one can’t take a bus, train, or sidewalk there? I believe I forgot to mention that there are enough NML employees getting there by car that they built a parking ramp.

As for a commuter train, the closest point of approach for the westernmost rail line, which is used by AMTRAK, is just under 1 1/2 miles. The closest AMTRAK station is 4 1/2 miles away. The closest the KRM, which would be on the easternmost rail line, would get is 4 1/2 miles, with the station being roughly 5 miles away. Further, neither AMTRAK nor the proposed KRM serves (or would serve) Wauwatosa.

P-Mac also hacks away at the idea that light rail would work. Anybody care to guess how much it would take to run a light rail line between Wauwatosa, the downtown Milwaukee NML campus (because we can’t expect NML employees to be bothered by transferring to the streetcar) and the Franklin NML campus?

May 1, 2009

Here come the trains and taxes

(H/T – Charlie Sykes, who properly invokes the BOHICA acronym)

Greg Bump at WisPolitics stayed up late so I wouldn’t have to, and he documented the extent of the screwing of the taxpayers regarding transit by the Democrats of the Joint Finance Committe last night and early this morning:

  • The requirement to get Milwaukee County Board and residential approval to build a light rail system in Milwaukee got stripped out on a party-line 12-4 vote. A related resolution to require a countywide referendum for any entity wanting a light rail system fell on a party-line 4-12 vote.
  • An unelected Milwaukee County Regional Transit Tax Authority, with 2 members selected by the county board chair, 2 by the Milwaukee mayor, and a member selected by the governor (and notably, no members appointed by the Milwaukee County Executive, a theme that selectively repeats itself), will get the authority to create a brand-new 1% sales tax, with 15% going to the city of Milwaukee, and the money going to transit, parks, cultural, and emergecy medical service programs. That went through on an 11-5 vote, with Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) joining the Republicans.

    Do note the 15% that goes to the city. The current Milwaukee County Transit System has expressed its desire to not operate any light-rail system, and specifically the “Downtown Collector” that got rammed into the federal budget. The city is likely to use that 15% to fund the starter light-rail system.

    Also note the entites that get to appoint the unelected taxing authority. Not only is there no guarantee that a suburban resident will get a seat as no suburban municpality has appointment power, but the executive of Milwaukee County, unlike the executives of the city of Milwaukee and the state, gets no voice.

  • A separate unelected KRM board to run the bigger choo-choo, funded by an indexed-for-inflation $16-per-transaction car rental fee (an 800% increase in the current $2 fee going to the existing Regional Transit Authority) applied to Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha Counties, with 2 members selected by the Milwaukee County board chair (and 0 by the Milwaukee County Executive), 1 member selected by the Racine County board chair (and 0 by the Racine County Executive), 1 member selected by the Kenosha County Executive (and 0 by the Kenosha County board chair), 2 members selected by Milwaukee’s mayor, and 1 member each selected by Racine’s mayor, Kenosha’s mayor and the governor. That passed on a party-line 12-4 vote.

    An attempt to exempt the portion of Racine County west of I-94 (a minimum of 7 miles west of the KRM line, with no transit service between the area west of I-94 and any of the KRM stations) fell on a party-line 4-12 vote. (Revisions/extensions, 11:45 am 5/1/2009) This area, along with the part of Kenosha County west of I-94, was exempted from governor Jim Doyle’s RTA reorganization proposal.

    I wonder why Kenosha County’s executive gets appointment authority, while Racine County’s executive and Milwaukee County’s executive doesn’t. Indeed, that was reinforced on a party-line 4-12 rejection of an amendment to make the Racine and Milwaukee County executives equal to Kenosha County’s. I wonder if there’s a court case to be made here.

    Again, note that there is no guarantee that there will be anybody from a municipality other than Milwaukee, Racine or Kenosha on this unelected taxing authority.

  • Dane County also gets its own unelected Regional Transit Authority. While that also passed on a party-line vote, there are a couple of key differences between it and the Milwaukee County version that really makes my blood boil over the fisting I’m taking in the ‘burbs:
    • The funding sales tax, which would be 0.5%, would require a non-binding referendum.
    • The appointment authorities are vastly different:
      • Two Madison metro residents appointed by the county executive and approved by the county board
      • Two members appointed by Madison’s mayor and approved by Madison’s Common Council
      • One member each from Fitchburg, Middleton and Sun Prairie, appointed by the respective mayors and approved by the respective Common Councils
      • One member appointed by the governor
      • One village member appointed by the Dane County Cities and Villages Association

    You notice anything different between the makeup of the Dane County RTA and the Milwaukee County RTA and the KRM board, like the guaranteed presence of suburban members, or the requirement of approval of the legislative branches, or a role for the county executive?

I’m not exactly hopeful my state Senator, Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee) will either remember that he once wanted to get rid of sales taxes entirely or kill the RTAs. He is far more afraid of the East Side/UWM liberals than he is of outraged taxpayers. After all, someone who had to drop out because he committed vote fraud got 26% of the vote in the 2006 Democrat primary.

February 24, 2009

Steve is away working on his new KRM Proposal

by @ 22:42. Filed under Choo-choos.

I though I would give you a preview….n1270217983_294743_5575

July 18, 2007

Walker on transit – the expanded version

by @ 18:14. Filed under Choo-choos, Politics - Wisconsin.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker previously made his feelings on City of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s desire for streetcars known via Owen and Charlie. Now, it’s my turn to get the (expanded) Walker e-mail:

Two weeks ago, I was part of a group that traveled from Milwaukee to visit transit operations in Portland and Denver. While the sizes of these cities are similar to Milwaukee, the demographics are much different. According to 2006 census estimates, Portland had a 1.5% population increase while Denver went up by 2.4%. Milwaukee, on the other hand, went down by 4%. These growing urban centers have much greater congestion problems than we do in Milwaukee.

The transit system in Portland is paid for largely through a payroll tax that funds the bus and light rail system.

The streetcar system opened in 2001. It cost $56.9 million and there were no federal funds used to start the system. The streetcars are subsidized by a combination of support from the Tri-Met system and aid from the City of Portland and local business owners. Most of the streetcar line runs in a fare-free zone.

In Denver, the bus and light rail systems are funded through a 1% sales tax on all of 7 counties and part of an eighth county in the metro Denver area. In addition, one of the most requested additions to the system is a Bus Rapid Transit line between Denver and Boulder.

Other systems were mentioned on the trip, including Tampa (which was featured in a publication handed out in Portland). Tampa has a 2.4 mile system that cost $63 million and was opened in 2002.

Last year the number of riders declined 10%. A $4.75 million endowment originally set up to operate the streetcar system for 10 years is losing $1 million per year. The City of Tampa is not willing to put any more money into the system.

Bus Rapid Transit is Best

While the systems in Portland and Denver were nice, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is still the best option for Milwaukee. BRT works well in other cities: Boston, Kansas City, Miami, Santa Monica, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Eugene, Los Angeles, Oakland, etc. It is more cost effective, yet has many of the same attractions of a fixed rail system.

A report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) of the federal government compared light rail and BRT and found that BRT capital costs are as little as 2% of those of rail. The report on BRT (which uses Denver for part of its data) makes a strong case to “think rail, use buses.”

Furthermore, a 1998 lawsuit alleged that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation disproportionately funded freeways with federal funds while ignoring transit investments that would otherwise benefit minorities and low-income individuals. The BRT plan is the only option that directly benefits the areas referenced in the 1998 lawsuit.

Bus System Needs Help

The current bus system needs help. While the $91.5 million cannot be used to operate the bus system, it can be used to replace existing routes with new lines that improve and upgrade the bus system.

Conversely, the Mayor’s plan – which covers a 3-mile area in downtown Milwaukee – would use approximately half of the federal funds for a streetcar system. This system would ultimately compete with the bus system for state and federal funding.

All of the data shows that the people most dependent on transit live in the north and northwestern parts of the City of Milwaukee. These individuals would not directly benefit from a streetcar system, but would benefit from an improved and upgraded bus transit system.

The Mayor’s original plan does, however, propose using about half of the federal funds on BRT. I suggest that we take the parts of each plan where we are close to agreement and merge them together. My plan spends $59.5 million of the $91.5 million on BRT. We can combine our routes and debate about the remaining $32 million on another day. That would be a real compromise.

Future Vision for Mass Transit

Finally, I want to share with you a long-term vision for action needed to protect and improve the transit system in Milwaukee County:

· Lobby state government to capture the growth in the existing sales tax collected on motor vehicle related sales ($103.5 million statewide in 2009/2011 biennial budget) and apply it to transit (about half would go to Milwaukee County Transit System).
· Move forward with a pilot phase of Bus Rapid Transit plan that uses $59.5 million of the $91.5 million.
· Expand BRT throughout the major corridors of Milwaukee County over the next five to ten years.

As always, I look forward to your comments on this important matter. I thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on the issue of mass transit.


Time for my two cents. Street-level rail does not make an ounce of sense. Unless you have a strip of land (which Milwaukee does NOT have), you take away at least one lane from the street, whether that is parking or driving. The fact that choo-choos automatically have the right of way screws up traffic further. The only way to change a route is to rip up the existing tracks and lay new tracks. The route that the Milk Carton wants is utterly stupid as the only thing it does is connect the Bradley Center and the perpetually-empty convention center with the perpetually-empty train station (never mind that they are all within walking distance of each other). The history of downtown-specific transit is one of utter failure.

I’m not exactly sold on buses either. Many of the MCTS buses do nothing but move air from one part of the county to the other. The one advantage they have over trains, be they trolleys, that commuter rail the lefties are also trying to jam down our throats despite the facts that Kenosha is more-aligned with Chicago than either Racine or Milwaukee and that Racine is pretty much its own little island, is that there is almost no effort or cost to change the routes to reflect changes.

Personally, I’d tell the feds to take that $91 million and buy back some of the Treasury bonds that Red China has.

December 21, 2006

“Financing” the local portion of the commuter choo-choo

by @ 23:30. Filed under Choo-choos, Politics - Wisconsin, Taxes.

The “geniuses” behind the KRM white elephant, er, commuter rail have a real wiener of an idea to finance this albatross: a 0.05% sales tax in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha Counties to provide $8 million per year. Let’s see; assuming their numbers are right (and they’ve been previously blown up), they start the project $157 million in the hole (assuming no additonal fed funding; the 90% fed funding they want would still leave them $23.7 million short) and have to make up $10.9 million per year in the difference between fares and operating costs. Oops; last time I checked, you can’t do that on $8 million/year, and that’s assuming the Craps’ Department of Revenue coughs up all the money due this latest unelected taxing authority (something they have a problem with). Guess those “other funding options” will inevitably creep back into the mix.

What’s worse, they want to give the county boards authority to levy a 0.45% sales tax to “shift” the cost of running the buses off the property tax rolls. Seeing we have 14 tax-and-spend-and-tax-and-spend-and-spend-and-taxers on the 19-member Milwaukee County Board, there’s another $45 million or so in tax and spending increases. They will see to it that there is no property tax relief, as there are portraits of Thug Holloway to be made, pensions to be doled out, union Rip Van Winkles to be “employed”, and deputies to have sit on the freeways to generate even more revenue.

November 25, 2006

Meet the new route, same as the old route

by @ 15:02. Filed under Choo-choos, Politics - Wisconsin.

Well, not quite the same; the newest proposal for running choo-choos between Milwaukee and Kenosha has a few changes designed to screw Joe Taxpayer:

  • It will no longer be a Metra train. That means those that want to take this choo-choo to Chicago would have to change trains at either Kenosha or Waukegan. It also means that the local choo-choo enthusiasts will have to build a new rail yard and facilities, and do their own maintenance, rather than leech off of Metra.
  • Because of that, and because they’re throwing in a Bay View station (which would have to be built from scratch, just like the ones planned for Cudahy, South Milwaukee, Oak Creek, Caledonia and Somers), the build cost has increased from $152 million to $237 million. Even though they’re hoping for 90% funding from the feds, there’s only $80 million in the till from them for this project.
  • Even the one “positive” of not leeching off of Metra, the scheduling of more round trips (14 versus 7 during the week, 7 versus 3 on weekends and holidays) turns into a nightmare. Between doing their own maintenance and running more choo-choos, they’re looking at a conservative estimate of recurring costs at $14.7 million per year. They’re hoping for $3.8 million in fares from the 1.43 million rides provided, each charged something less than $10 for a trip between Kenosha and Milwaukee (there’s so many problems with this math, but more on that in a moment).

Houston, we have a problem. We have a main ridership overestimate, a master caution light on the construction costs, multiple warnings and buzzers. Let’s start at the top:

  • Construction costs – In 3 years, this estimate has gone up 55.9%. Even that number will prove to be not nearly high enough. Fire up Google Earth once and try to trace the route from the Kenosha train station to the Milwaukee one. Take note of two things: the single track for most of the distance and the lack of a direct path.

    First, the single track. That is an active freight line, serving the Oak Creek power plant. Can you say, “There will be delays driving down ridership.”? I knew you could. Notice that south of Kenosha, there are two tracks on the line. In the interest of fairness, however, I will note that the major structures to restore the line to a 2-track line (i.e. bridges) remain and (presumably) will not need to be rebuilt. Indeed, for 14 round trips per day to be reached, that second set of tracks will need to be laid down.

    Next, the lack of a direct path. The Union Pacific line curves west away from the Lake Parkway just north of St. Francis Ave (it, and a line that continues north, actually both curve together into the westbound line, but to get from one north-south line to the other, a train would need to back up). While it does appear that it connects to the Canadian Pacific line that Amtrak runs on under I-43/94, that is, IIRC, a grade-separated crossing with no connection. Since that almost-somewhat-not-quite-connected line that continues north from St. Francis does connect with the CP line and ultimately the Milwaukee station, it would be easy to build a couple hundred feet of new track to make that direct connection. Of course, that would require the train to cross two swing bridges in the Milwaukee harbor.

    Going back to the schedule, it’s going to be several trains. Logistics would demand that there be 4 trains on the tracks at any given time during the week, more if there is going to be a rush-hour burst.

  • Ridership – These numbers just don’t add up. At 14 round trips per weekday and 7 per weekend day and holiday, that’s about 8,650 one-way choo-choo trips. To get to the claimed annual ridership of 1.43 million, each train, each direction, each day would have to have over 165 people on it. That’s not happening.

    Even worse, they’re only projecting $3.8 million per year from fares. I know they’re planning on charging something less than $10 for a trip between Kenosha and Milwaukee, but if their inflated 1.43 million ridership can be believed, they’re getting about $2.65 out of each rider. Hell, that doesn’t even get you from Kenosha to Winthrop Harbor or downtown Chicago to Evanston ($3.05) much less between Kenosha and downtown Chicago ($6.40). Let’s assume they’ll go with an average fare of $5 (Milwaukee is closer and less attractive than Chicago, after all, and rolling with $10 would fly more like a depleted uranium balloon than the lead balloon that a $5 round-trip will prove).

    First, just for grins, let’s rerun the annual fare take at their inflated ridership at an average fare of $5. Even that only gives them $7.15 million in fare money. Now, let’s rerun the ridership numbers at the annual fare intake of $3.8 million. Oops, that drops the number of rides to 760,000. Divide that by 8,650 choo-choo trips and there’s about 88 people on each and every train in each and every direction each and every day. Guess what? That’s not happening either, especially since the Milwaukee-to-Sturtevant-to-Chicago Amtrak Hiawatha line carries a hair more than 500,000 rides per year, and that goes from Milwaukee to Chicago about as quickly as this commuter line would go from Milwaukee to Kenosha.

  • Recurring costs – Using the choo-choo lovers’ numbers, there would be an annual hole of $10.9 million to fill. Let’s get down to brass spikes and use the semi-realistic ridership numbers from above to start. Since essentially all of those rides are going to be round-trip, let’s knock the rides in half to 380,000 to reflect the actual number of people on the choo-choo in a year. That’s a taxpayer subsidy of $28.68 per round trip.

    As for paying for that $10.9 million, the dumbest idea is a TIF. First, that is designed to recoup the fixed costs of improvement with the increased taxes from the increased value of the property improved, not recurring costs. Second, I rather doubt there is more than $1 billion in improvements to be had from the introduction of a commuter rail line; hell, I doubt there is $1 in improvements that could be attributed to its introduction.

Grab ’em ankles.

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