County Board to vote on controversial regional transit authority

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

From an article by Kristin Czubkowksi in The Capital Times:

In some ways, the Dane County Board's vote on creating a regional transit authority is one of the longest and shortest journeys for a piece of legislation in the county's recent history.

After enabling legislation was passed in the budget by the state Legislature in June, board Chairman Scott McDonell introduced a resolution at the board's Oct. 15 meeting that would create the new governmental body. An RTA, which allows for regional governance on transit issues, could pave the way for a commuter rail line and an expanded bus system, among other options. The measure was approved by two committees on Monday, Oct. 26, setting up a vote by the full County Board on Nov. 5, just three weeks after the resolution's introduction.

While that may seem speedy relative to other bills, those involved in the Madison area's quest for improved transit through a regional governing body say that this vote has been a long time in coming. As former County Board chairman Dick Wagner recently pointed out, seven county executives going back to 1974 have supported the creation of an RTA, and local studies on regional transportation go back equally far.

The County Board has been generally supportive of regional transportation, including a 22-13 vote in 2007 that signaled support for an RTA to the state, and there's little to suggest the votes will be different Thursday. Still, some conservative members of the County Board say the county should hold an advisory referendum so that the public has an opportunity to weigh in before the board creates the body or spends any more money on transportation planning and studies. Under state law, the RTA could levy up to a half-percent sales tax without a referendum; RTA proponents have pledged to hold a referendum before a tax is levied, but after the body is created.