Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett vetoed the Milwaukee Connector project Wednesday afternoon, saying his move is a "call for fiscal honesty."
Barrett sent the Milwaukee Common Council a letter outlining his objections to the bill passed Tuesday. He said the $91 million in Interstate Cost Estimate funds must be used for transit improvements, and not property tax dollars.
Next steps on this project are unknown. More than 15 similar-sized cities have already implemented modern, fixed-guideway transit systems.
The following is the full text of the letter:
May 10, 2006
To the Honorable, the Common Council of the City of Milwaukee
Honorable Members of the Common Council:
I am vetoing File Number 051610, a substitute resolution relating to the Milwaukee Connector project.
I have always been, and continue to be, a strong proponent of mass transit. Consequently, my veto should not be interpreted as an action against transit improvements. Rather, it should be interpreted as a call for fiscal honesty.
I have said that the current system needs to be upgraded and that Milwaukeeans deserve a first-class system. I have publicly stated, and the Council agrees, that no property tax dollars should be used to fund the project. I also concur with the Council that Milwaukee County Transit should manage and operate the preferred alternative.
I have been firm in my position that the remaining $91 million in Interstate Cost Estimate (ICE) funds must be used for transit improvements. As a member of Congress, I fought to secure and keep those funds in Milwaukee. If necessary, I will continue that fight.
I am exercising my veto authority for the following reasons:
The resolution approved by the Common Council does not include a funding source for the federally required local match. The citizens of Milwaukee deserve to know specifically how the Common Council wants the $57 million local share to be paid. Its easy to say how to spend money. The hard part is identifying where the money is going to come from. To move ahead with a $300 million alternative, without details on financing, would be fiscally irresponsible. Opponents of the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Plan Commissions [(SEWRPC) plan to tear up Milwaukee neighborhoods for freeway expansions often cite the financial implications of the plan as their reasons for not supporting it. I count myself among that group. The same standard should be applied to the $300 million electric bus alternative.
The funding scheme presented shows $25 million in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds and $127 million in federal New Start Funds. My concern is what will happen if those funds do not materialize in the amounts presented. Will the local match increase? Will the funding source identified protect against any funding shortfalls?
I commend the Wisconsin Districts study team for its community outreach efforts. Over 300 community briefing sessions were held as well as a series of public hearings; however, more outreach and input is needed from current transit riders who, in order to reach their destination, would have to transfer multiple times should the alternative supported by the Common Council be built. These individuals and those who will lose routes and current service need to be heard from. In addition, neighborhood residents and businesses that will be impacted by the construction of overhead, electric guide wires, poles and stations, as well as the loss of on-street parking, need to fully understand what it at stake.
Finally, there is no guarantee that the Milwaukee County Transit will manage and operate the guided electric bus alternative. The County Board resolution on the subject does not specify a preferred alternative. The County resolution states that Milwaukee County Transit should operate the preferred alternative either the hybrid buses or the guided electric buses. If we are all in agreement that Milwaukee County Transit should operate the system, then why shouldnt we all agree on the preferred alternative?
Common Council President Willie L. Hines, Jr. minced few words in lambasting Barrett.
When the business leaders and citizens of this city looked to Mayor Barrett for leadership, he offered none, said Ald. Hines. Its disappointing that when the City of Milwaukee had the opportunity to move into the 21st century, this mayor is driving a Studebaker stuck in the 1950s, Ald. Hines said. This is a $ 300 million project funded largely with federal and state dollars, and it is a system that will be built by Milwaukeeans for Milwaukeeans. How the Mayor of Milwaukee would be opposed to such a project is mind boggling.
The Milwaukee Connector is a 13-mile guided system of electric street tram buses that would serve key areas of the city. Estimates, according to the plan that is more than six years in the making, indicate that ridership on routes served by the Connector will increase 20 percent.
In-line transit systems like the guided street tram have proven to spark neighborhood and downtown development throughout the country. Unlike traditional buses that run on gasoline, the Milwaukee Connector will run on overhead electrical wires and is not reliant on gas. The Council resolution supporting the Milwaukee Connector - approved yesterday on a 9-6 vote -- does not authorize the expenditure of any funds and specifically prohibits the use of property tax dollars for funding the system.
The same people who are opposed to the Milwaukee Connector are those who for years have been opposed to Milwaukees progress, said Hines. These same nay sayers opposed the demolition and redevelopment of the Park East freeway. They opposed the building of Miller Park in downtown Milwaukee. They opposed public investment in the Riverwalk and they said that downtown housing and the condo boom would never happen. History has proven them wrong in each case.
Ald Hines continued: Now, those same people have been joined by the Mayor of Milwaukee in opposing a new, clean and efficient transit system that will move people to jobs, foster new tax base and attract and retain young people. The Common Council of the City of Milwaukee cannot allow this to happen.