MILWAUKEE COUNTY TRANSIT: DOING MORE WITH LESS
We've heard it said time and time again, and it rings true every time: A healthy local economy requires a healthy local transit system. Unfortunately, local and state leaders have chosen to ignore this fact for years. And it has to stop, now.
The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) has survived on fumes for too long. Because it lacks a dedicated funding source, MCTS has had to use federal funds to patch holes in its budget, reduce or eliminate routes and increase fares. While it’s attempting to provide new services—with federal funds—to help Milwaukeeans and visitors get around town, the future of MCTS is uncertain. And because of that uncertainty, the future of Milwaukee’s economy is getting even shakier.
MCTS has some wonderful advocates. Local bus riders are loyal and outspoken. The transit system itself has made its case for adequate funding. Congresswoman Gwen Moore has been able to find federal funds through the years. Over Scott Walker’s opposition, Milwaukee County supervisors put their reputations on the line to place an advisory funding referendum on the ballot in 2008— advising an increase in the sales tax in the county by 1 cent, with some of the proceeds going to fund transit, taking the costs off the property tax—and it passed. Some local legislators have advocated in Madison for a stable funding source for MCTS, along with regional transit that would help Milwaukeeans get to jobs in the outer suburbs and southern counties. Milwaukee’s business community even pushed for greater transit resources, but was unable to persuade Republican legislators to make public transit a priority.
Despite this robust effort to support MCTS and local bus systems throughout the state, Gov. Scott Walker’s budget slashed state funding for local transit systems by 10%, killed off regional transit and failed to create a stable funding source for local bus systems.
Adding insult to injury, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, following the Scott Walker approach, has failed to find a long-term, dedicated funding source for MCTS and he opposes using a portion of the sales tax for transit. Instead, he’s using federal funds—yet again— to fill holes in the system’s budget and push the problem into the next budget cycle. He’s called for yet another study of MCTS’s funding, but enough studies have been conducted to fill an entire library. We all know the conclusion: MCTS needs dedicated funding, and it needs it now.
If we care about getting Milwaukee’s workers to and from their jobs so that the county has a thriving economy, we need to organize and put pressure on county supervisors and state legislators who refuse to support a long-term, dedicated funding source for Milwaukee’s bus system, similar to other metropolitan areas. If Milwaukeeans can’t get to their jobs, then the jobs will leave Milwaukee.