Friday, January 12, 2007

Mayor offers free lunch. Watch your wallet!

I heard Mayor Becker on the radio today. He was promoting a tri-county sales tax increase (Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha) to fund the Metra expansion, other municipal transportation expenditures, and of course, property tax relief.

Now I didn't catch all of the mayors points, but if I understand the jist of it, the .25% sales tax increase would cover 5 times the amount needed to fund the annual Metra shortfall. The mayor pointed out that 20% of sales tax collected is from folks outside the KRM counties. Thus, the argument goes like this: The sales tax collected from outsiders will cover all of the shortfall casued by the Metra expansion. Thus we get Metra for free.

And on top of all that we will get property tax relief. Why is it that the only time Democrats mention the problem of high taxes is when they are trying to raise them further?


Brenda said...

I will probably get a lot of flak for this, but I do support the choo-choo coming to Racine and Milwaukee. If government dollars are used to subsidize the airlines and highways; why not trains? Commuter trains are the future...

With that said, I am somewhat confused on why and how the government can say they are going to raise taxes and then claim it will be used for tax-relief.

I understand that it is only a shell game politicians play with our money, must they also insult our intelligence by telling us lies?

Anonymous said...

Lies are definitely the truth in this administration and Mr. President is the Master of Illusions and the ring leader. Weapons of mass destruction, impending doom from terrorists, so called "coalition" of international forces, yea right....

Rail will bring millions of dough to the community, create jobs and development to southeastern wisconsin, compared to billions for the world's first outsourced "war" brainer for me. I'd prefer my tax money going to development and job creation in my own community, rather then to subsidize ridiculously large profits to corporations to perform no bid or back door contracts in Iraq.

Conservatives hate US government spending when it pertains to bettering the quality of life of americans, but love spending gobs of our money in other countries in the name of the ambigous "national security".

Denis Navratil said...

anon, the issue here is the truthfullness or lack thereof of Mayor Beckers proposal. Please stay on topic.

Denis Navratil said...

Brenda you are hardly alone in your support of the choo-choo. But I find your argument frightening. If we are subsidizing airlines and highways, why not trains? The same argument could be used to support any government subsidy. Why don't we independently assess the costs and benefits of a rail subsidy? Certainly a strong case could be made that highway subsidies support the activities of virtually all Americans, while commuter rail will support only a tiny percentage of users. As for the reasons that our politicians insult us with shell games, it is because we are stupid and it works. Of course I am not referring to you or I on that last comment.

Anonymous said...

Denis, you do not support commuter rail? why or why not?

Denis Navratil said...

Based on what I know now, I would have to say no. The start up cost is in the hundreds of millions of $'s, as I understand it. That money is not free but will come from our federal taxes. I believe this is what they are calling an earmark, although in this case it is our earmark, so many seem not too worried about it. Even train advocates are acknowledging that the train service will lose about $10 million per year. Now, it is conceivable that we will somehow gain the $10 million back through development, fewer cars on the highway, job growth etc..., but I am not at all convinced of this. People often point out the development around the Kenosha station, but they seem to contribute all of this growth to the train and none of it to the location near Lake Michigan. Take a drive one block west of the Kenosha station and tell me why the development has not occured there.

You ask an interesting question anon. I would be interested in your position. Incidentally, I would probably personally benefit from the cash transfer (federal to local, west of county to east)that is being proposed, as I own a retail business in downtown. So I have every financial incentive to hop on board the train idea, but those damn free market principles keep getting in the way.

eric said...

As an ex-military guy and sometimes program manager, one thing I noticed over the years was how other nations spent their more limited resources to satisfy the same fundamental defense requirements that all nations share. What weapon systems did they procure, how did they manage their personel, and why? It always seemed a good exercise to me to note how other reasonable peoples dealt with the same requirements but with less resources. When looking at foreign civilian infrastructure it was evident they had determined rail to be more efficient, particulary in densely populated areas. We can make the rail argument as complex or as simple as we want, pick whichever side we wish and advocate for or against it, in the end it's a bet based on both the best figures you can get and some collective intuition. I'm guessing there was opposition to freeways and airports too. Given that the Milwaukee - Chicago corridor that we're in the middle of is developing, it strikes me the preference is to develop and invest smartly. It also strikes me corridor regions around the nation and world have already demonstrated commuter rail as a valuable regional asset. This looks like a worthwhile investment to me.

Brenda said...

You are right that my argument (as written) is weak.

What I was trying to say is that I would rather see my money go towards commuter rail than say expanding the I-94 corridor to the state line.

If we had commuter rail, the scheduled I-94 (2009??)corridor from the state line to Milwaukee
could be scrapped.

Denis Navratil said...

We already subsidize one train system that serves Chicago and Milwaukee and Racine (Sturtevant actually). Would it make more sense to subsidize that one to a greater extent, assuming the additional losses are less than the projected Metra shortfall? Amtrak is much faster and more comfortable, I am told.

Denis Navratil said...

Brenda, perhaps we could scrap them both (I-94 and Metra). Maybe that would be even better. I doubt that Metra expansion will have any discernible impact on I-94 traffic. That seems to be one of those trumped up benefits that train proponents claim in order to get the support of drivers.

eric said...

Denis, my understanding is that at the end of this decade I-94 from Milwaukee south to the IL state line is scheduled to be totally rebuilt - torn up, new base, and all new road; project will span five years or so. Rail advocates believe if commuter rail is in place then it will be well positioned to service what will surely be alot of disgruntled drivers stuck in huge traffic jams going to/from Chicago. These folks will find riding rail with no parking hassles and fees at the arrival end will be preferable to going back to the I-94 race.

Existing Amtrak service is express -therefore not servicing as many communities, costs 4-5x Metra commuter fares, and to me seems a bit expensive for a ride where they won't guarantee me a seat.

With all that said, we're going to check out the new Sturtevent terminal and ride to Chicago next month. We've riden Amtrak in other parts of the country before, and Metra several times, so we shall see.

Brenda said...

Perhaps we should scrap them both, but you and I both know that is not going to happen. Our government loves to spend our money - here I just want to urge them to spend it wisely.

I would rather see the gas tax used to pay for something "greener" than adding more lanes to the freeway system.

(Remember, I am a recovering liberal)

I know I sound naive, but I truly think if Metra extended North to Racine and Milwaukee - it would be a good thing.

With that said, I do not think that having a separate line (complete with transfers) or busses will do the trick.

The KRM other options are, I feel, not worthy on spending any money on.

We need to change the way we think, I hate taxes just as much as the next guy, but having a CONTINUOUS commuter rail from Chicago to Milwaukee is vital for any regional expansion.

gopfolk said...

I’ll weigh in on this because I do pay quite a bit of attention to this subject.

#1. If commuter rail was a mode of transportation that even 10% of the surrounding population would use than we should consider funding it. But if we assume rider ship that exceeds what the KRM proponents are touting say 2000 people (or in KRM numbers 4000 riders) per day then only .3% of the surrounding population is using this mode.

#2. “Commuter trains are the future…” LOL!!! Um, that’s like, so 1880! Trains are an outdated form of transportation, kind of like horses?!?

#3. Commuter rail currently exists in this area it is called Amtrak. While may like to point out the two flaws in it, it is priced higher than KRM or METRA and that it does not stop as frequently, I’d like to point out the most important part: Amtrak has lower expenses, higher prices, and still can not figure out a way of making a profit!! Amtrak relies on government funding to stay in business.
How can a train that will have more stops (more locations to maintain yields higher expenses) and lower fares be able to succeed with out bleeding our communities dry?

#4. The economic statistics that the KRM proponents are throwing out there is just preposterous! I guess the continuing development of the Regency, Mayfair, and Bayshore are all because trains go there right? Strong leadership and the right development strategy are more important than a train.

#5. The only thing that KRM could do that would be beneficial on the margins is reduce pollution. But would KRM, by removing approximately 2,000 cars from the roadway, reduce pollution in SE Wisconsin? The answer is…NO. Most of the commuters would drive their cars to the station and then take the train. At night get back in their car and drive home. Commuter rail systems work to reduce pollution in high-density urban areas not in areas like those that surround Milwaukee and the Chicago suburbs.

eric said...

1. If the standard is daily utilization by 10% of the public or more, staying in the transporation arena, the airports would be the first to go, and then some of the roads. We could then bridge into a host of other public services to eliminate.

2. Actually trains are so 21st century. In Europe and Asia they practically ... fly. On both our east and west coasts they're used extensively.

3. Amtrak east coast commuter does support itself from I've read, though many of the other long haul routes do not.

4. Since moving back to Racine 5 years ago after being gone for 20 years, I've been impressed with the development leadership has guided. If you don't like their plans, actions, and results, what are your alternatives?

5. I do believe that's what we're slowly becoming, part of the urban sprawl, and we're just hoping to do it smartly. If you reduce the distance/time on road of 2,000 car trips a day by 75% or so that should still have a positive impact?

gopfolk said...

1. I agree that the airlines get far too much in “aid” from the government and that they should be pricing their tickets accordingly but it is groups like transit now that make it possible for airlines to get their “fair-share” of government money. If transportation providers were not allowed to dip their head into the government trough then maybe we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

2. We are not talking about high-speed rail. We are talking about low-speed, outdated, rural/suburban transit. This is old school thinking not modern thinking. Commuters need a great deal of flexibility which is why the car is still the best option. If we were talking about a way to solve the traffic congestion in the Chicago area then rail may be an idea, but they are doing this and there are still traffic problems. Tokyo and London have extensive rail/subway lines and they have traffic issues (ask my wife: she hated sitting in traffic in London but was just as upset with being crammed like sardines in the tube and it taking nearly as long to get to our final destination.)

3. Currently there is no public transportation that is currently self-sustaining.

4. I’m not complaining about the development that has taken place I just wanted to point out that the KRM group is trying to mislead people into believing that the train brings economic prosperity to an area which ultimately is not the case. In fact they love to point to the economic boon that has occurred in Kenosha and how many of these people are from Illinois. What they leave out in all of this is while the population of Kenosha has taken off in recent years there has only been a small increase in the METRA ridership…why is that? Oh that’s right most people do not use the METRA to get places!

5. The bulk of travelers for this type of system will be traveling in the morning and in the evening. The cars for these individuals would be still and not polluting during the rest of the day. However with a system like this (or even buses) they will continue to run all day with or without passengers and continue to pollute. The environmental impact on commuter trains from rural/suburban areas in marginal at best. Commuter trains in the heart of urban areas have substantial environmental benefits.

eric said...

2/3) Interesting, I've spent quite a bit of time in London and Tokyo too - cannot imagine traveling in those places without rail, and I believe a reasonable person could surmise without rail auto traffic would get much worse in those places. In Japan, there are quite a few private rail companies that are self-sustaining. They service some unique right of ways, but often run their own parallel track lines to JR.

4) In a presentation at the Rondelle last year, the presenter from California made the case of a 'dead' community northwest of Boston that was resuscitated by commuter rail.