Robin Vos single-handedly saves Wisconsin from sensible mass-transit funding; Mike Ellis hoist on his own petard | WisCommunity

Robin Vos single-handedly saves Wisconsin from sensible mass-transit funding; Mike Ellis hoist on his own petard

Well, as we predicted, State Sen. Mike Ellis today finds himself (as Shakespeare put it) hoist on his own petard, thanks to fellow Republican state lawmakers who are well to the right of the conservative Ellis. Tea party politics are a bee-yotch, aina?

We blogged here early in January about how Ellis was pushing a state law to create a regional transit authority (RTA) in the Fox Valley, which he represents, in order to prevent the federal government from taking away more than $2 million in annual mass transit funding. Now, this idea makes sense to many of us who are supporters and users of mass transit. It makes sense to Ellis and local community leaders in the valley because it's big bucks and because mass transit is key to economic security.

And it made sense to the State Senate, which voted 25-7 Tuesday in favor of the Ellis measure. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) and Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) spoke in favor of the measure. But the bill doesn't make sense to the wingnut GOP leadership of the Wisconsin State Assembly, where the "leadership" just ensured the bill will die without ever a vote. Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) "is not supportive of RTAs and does not intend to bring this bill up for a vote in the Assembly,” said a spokeswoman for the antediluvian powerbroker.

That's right: One highly ideological lawmaker can thwart the will of everyone else who supposedly has a vote in the matter. Vos has claimed it would be better to create a statewide transit funding system, although how that equates to the purported GOP preference for local over state control is something impossible to figure out. Nor does that stand a realistic chance of happening; in the current GOP mindset, it's more of an excuse.

The real issue here, besides general GOP aversion to transportation spending that benefits people who would prefer not to drive cars, is that RTAs might raise revenues without the permission of state legislators, and that simply cannot be allowed in tea party-driven, Vosian ideology. Another real issue -- again, for Republicans -- is that mass transit tends to be in most demand in more heavily populated, urbanized areas, which often skew politically blue. And Republicans are too often loathe to help those regions. 

At least Vos is now out of the closet on this particular, political peccadillo.

So, no new RTA in the Fox Valley. I say "new" because two years ago Ellis was ill-advisedly among Republicans who voted out of existence the state's entire array of existing RTAs. There's what I mean by Ellis being hoist on his own petard. In default GOP politics, regionally  controlled authorities were viewed as a threat to fund mass transit at regionally acceptable levels, delivering efficient, effective service as a result. But, but...the RTAs might raise taxes a little bit! Because, in the GOP, raising taxes is never, ever okay, even if voters say yes -- unless, of course, the proposal is to raise taxes on poor people, like Republicans did in Walker's first budget.

In a move to gain more votes, Ellis perhaps unwisely painted his effort to re-create a RTA for the Fox Valley as a pilot project leading to similar moves in other urban regions that had RTAs before state Republicans destroyed them in 2011. Whether Ellis actually cared if any other region later would see its RTA restored is another question. He also sweetened (or soured) his bill to win more votes by adding language saying the new authority couldn't actually raise revenues to pay for existing or future mass transit services unless voters agreed to that in referendum. Vos wasn't buying it. Foot in the door, dontcha know. Allow RTAs to make one sensible decision, and who knows how many other sensible decisions might follow?

Probably it didn't help that the Ellis measure was co-sponsored by (gasp!) an Assembly Democrat, Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber of Appleton. Assembly Republicans simply refuse these days to vote for most things that any of their colleagues across the political aisle might also favor. Because...Democrats! Because...[shudder!] compromise and cooperation!

Thus, millions and millions of federal transit dollars will likely be yanked out of Wisconsin, just as hundreds of millions of passenger rail dollars were yanked thanks to Scott Walker's aversion to trains. Mass transit for the state's urban centers will as a result suffer, and so will those citizens and taxpayers who depend on it. Screw you, Wisconsin. Feels good, doesn't it? Well, only if you're a "Dr. No" Republican, or a public-policy masochist.

Maybe people in Vos' district who can't afford a safe, reliable car should now try hitching a commute on their legislator's popcorn wagon. Then, at least, Vos could honestly campaign on the fact that he's, uh, pulling for his constituents.

Actually, Vos' hometown, Burlington, participates in Racine County's privately operated SPARC transit shuttle system, but SPARC is tailored to seniors. If you're working age, you might be able to board a SPARC shuttle, but seniors are the priority and everyone else rides on a seats-available basis. Plus, this limited service is relatively pricey, compared to many bigger mass transit systems. SPARC is funded by Racine County, which is pretty much the very kind of funding Vos opposes in the case of RTAs. In dismantling RTAs across the state three years ago, Republicans in the legislature killed the Southeastern Regional Transity Authority, which was set up to serve Milwaukee, Kenosha and, yes, Racine counties. Apparently, in Vos' view, Burlington transit needs are already sufficiently met, thanks of course to money from the county, so who needs an RTA?

In any event, so it goes. Or rather, if it's a transit bus, so it doesn't go. Your Republican legislature: Making sure nothing works right. Just because.


February 12, 2014 - 10:03am