State Sen. Mike Ellis: Mass transit for me but not for thee, and probably not for me, either | WisCommunity

State Sen. Mike Ellis: Mass transit for me but not for thee, and probably not for me, either

State Senate President Michael Ellis two years ago was among Republicans who voted out of existence the state's entire array of regional transit authorities. Now he's trying to create a new regional transit authority serving the Fox Valley, which just happens to be his home district. Says Ellis, in so many words: regional transit authority for me, not for you. Because mass transit is important for local economies and we need regional solutions. Well, those of us in the Fox Valley do, at any rate. The rest of you can suck wind, or at least diesel exhaust.

To be fair, Ellis is painting his attempt to recreate a Fox Valley regional transit authority as a sort of pilot project. He would jigger things to make it harder for the new authority to actually collect tax revenues to actually pay for ... mass transit! He would do this by requiring a public referendum on any revenue-collection plans. Gee, what could possibly go wrong with that? The whole idea behind an (ahem!) governmental authority is to get past broader politics and make sound decisions, and to consistently FUND those decisions. Otherwise, why regard it as an "authority"?  Either you give over power to run mass transit, or you don't. Any authority without the means to reliably fund mass transit would be paper-tiger useless.

So why include that provision? Ellis says that without the referendum requirement. other Republican legislators wouldn't support the re-created transit authority. Because mass transit! Because spending!

The irony here is that, while other some Republicans might defer to Ellis' seniority role and might even be willing to try his experiment, most of them are probably too right-wing to support any kind of better way to organize mass transit. Among those recalcitrants would be Gov. Scott Walker, who would remain in character if he vetoed the measure, if it should even manage to pass both GOP-controlled houses. After all, mass transit bad! Especially if it's regionally based!

The Ellis measure is co-sponsored by a Democrat, Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber (D-Appleton), and endorsed by community leaders in his district. That support is, however, unlikely to mean anything to the true believers in the Wisconsin GOP right-wing-o-verse. A main impetus behind the Ellis measure is that, without a transit authority, the Fox Valley stands to lose abut $2 million in annual mass transit funding from the federal government by next year. The rest of urban Wisconsin would lose much, much more, but, like we said, a lot of Republicans including Walker have demonstrated their disdain for federal funding, at least the kind that supports better health care or mass transit.

In any event, for Ellis, here's the probable outcome: Hoisted, as Shakespeare wrote, with his own petard. The likely moral of this story: Be careful what you blow up, because you unwittingly might be blowing it for yourself and your constituents, big time.

The important background here is that Wisconsin lags the nation in mass transit solutions yet Republicans seem determined to fight any investment of any kind even though without solutions our state's job creation and economic development potential will continue to languish.

Note to Republicans: Out here in real Wisconsin, Many of us are trying to find better ways to get to work. Which is why each of you guys should quickly get thee to a nunnery -- and get some religion on this subject.

SIDEBAR: Just when we need better mass transit, more and more state politicians and even some businesses are headed in the opposite direction. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel just reported how the US attorney's office is reviewing a plan by Milwaukee's private Southridge Mall to move mall bus stops a thousand feet from mall entrances. The newspaper: "Milwaukee County officials said the matter had been referred to federal authorities to determine whether the move could be a violation of civil rights law or the Americans with Disabilities Act." But gee, heck, ya know, buses get in the way of cars! And, ya know, the people who ride on buses may not have that much money to spend anyway, and maybe, just maybe, they might be undesirable in, oh, you know, other ways, nudge-nudge, wink-wink. More at the URLs below.


January 6, 2014 - 10:38am