Let's play a game. Complete the following statements:
1. Energy costs are: (a) going down each year, or, (b) going up each year.
2. Health care costs due to heart- and lung-related diseases are: (a) decreasing each year, or (b) increasing each year.
3. Quick, regular and affordable mass transit makes a city: (a) less attractive to employers and workers, or, (b) more attractive to employers and workers.
4. Pricing out your biggest, most reliable customer is: (a) good for business, or, (b) bad for business.
If you answered (b) in all cases, you're right! If you answered (a) in all cases, you're Milwaukee County Exec Scott Walker.
Walker announced this week that his proposed 2008 county budget would end 13 Milwaukee County Transit System bus routes and shorten 13 more. It also would end door-to-door Transit Plus service for the elderly and disabled, replacing it with service limited to areas close to the remaining general bus routes. Meanwhile the proposal would raise regular fares from $1.75 to $2 and Transit Plus fares from $3.25 to $4.
The proposals shouldn't be surprising coming from a man who a few months ago told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board that he wants "to have a system that serves the needs of people who are dependent on mass transit. But ideally, I'd like to build an economy in this county and this city that means that fewer people are dependent on mass transit."
But what if mass transit is the right thing to do? Each of my four questions at the start of this post highlights a big problem with Walker's approach. Regarding the answers to questions 1-3: Quick, regular, and affordable mass transit makes a city more attractive to employers and workers, reduces asthma- and heart attack-producing air pollution, and decreases our reliance on expensive and politically risky foreign oil. As for question 4: Milwaukee Public Schools is the county transit system's biggest customer by a long shot. Last year we figured out that if Walker raised the school district's overall bus fare costs by another $750,000, MPS would start looking for other options. It's just not a slick business move to price out your bread-and-butter.
On the same day that Walker announced his proposed transit cuts, the AARP announced that Milwaukee was one of the top five places for U.S. seniors to live and retire. "City living may cost a bit more, but urban communities also deliver peak value in the form of culture, work options, mass transit and fitness opportunities," said Steve Slon, editor of AARP The Magazine, in a press release about the rankings.
I think Milwaukee's a great city and I hope our nation's seniors know it, too. But do you think AARP is going to rank us so highly next year if we throw momma from the bus?
Jennifer Morales is an elected member of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, the first person of Latino descent to hold that position. She was first elected in 2001 and was unopposed for re-election in 2005. In 2004, she ran for a seat in the Wisconsin state senate, earning 43% of the vote against a 12-year incumbent.
Previously, she served as the editorial assistant at the educational journal Rethinking Schools; as assistant director of two education policy research centers at UW-Milwaukee; and as the development director for 9to5, National Association of Working Women.
She became the first person in her immediate family to graduate from college, earning a B.A. in Modern Languages and Literatures from Beloit College in 1991.
In addition to her work on the school board, she is a freelance editorial consultant and a mother.