Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Visit from Mayor Becker

Mayor Becker stopped by my business yesterday to, as he said it, understand the illogical opposition to commuter rail. FYI, the illogic jab was interpreted by me as a benign wise crack, ie no offense intended.

Assuming that what Becker said was true, and I don't know him to be one to deliberately mislead, I must incorporate this new info into my thinking.

It was my understanding that Metra would hemmorage about $8 million per year. Becker said that that amount is a bit high, but more importantly, that it includes repayment of the $40 million in local borrowing for up-front costs. This is an important difference because the $7 or $8 million or so of annual payments is almost entirely the repayment of capital expenses, not an operating deficit. So that annual payment will be over in a decade or so, depending on the length of the municipal bond. The operating deficit figures to be about a million per year, if I remember the mayor's figures correctly.

I never intended to get very worked up about the Metra extension largely because it is a federal battle rather than a local one, insofar as I am concerned. The problem, as I see it, is runaway spending at the federal level and that is not a problem that is going to go away anytime soon. And in this case, Racine will clearly benefit at the expense of taxpayers in Nebraska, Wausau, and west Racine county. The wealth transfer is going federal to regional, statewide to local, west of county to east of county, so Racine wins on this one. So while I remain vigorously opposed to government overspending, this is not a battle I intend to invest much of my time on.

But knowing me, that could change.


Anonymous said...

Denis, three words for you: SWAMPLAND IN FLORIDA!

Denis Navratil said...

anon, I am titillated. Please explain.

Anonymous said...

Not to infer that anything the mayor told you may have been misleading, BUT...if you honestly believe any politician that tells you a tax/fee will sunset within a decade (or within the lifetime of planet Earth, for that matter) there is clearly a large piece of swampland in Florida with your name on it...ready to make an offer???

And, as I'm sure you're well aware, that federal tax money isn't really coming from Kansas, Nebraska, western Racine County or all points west...it's coming directly out of your pocket. You may not believe you're funding METRA personally, but your Federal tax dollars are subsidizing some similar pork project in Kansas, Nebraska, western Racine County (Burlington bypass) or points west. So in essence, it's just a matter of which community is today's beneficiary - the quintessential shell game with taxpayer money.

I'm curious, though, did you bother to ask why the annual subsidy (and yes there is an annual subsidy since ridership will only account for about .46 on the dollar given absolute optimum ridership which may never be realized) has dropped?

Denis, your usual inquisitiveness seems to be lacking on the issue and that's very uncharacteristic. Could be because you view this as a federal issue? Wish I could, but I know I'll be bending over in some way, shape or form to help fund the Johnson Wax executive choo-choo - brings it home to a local level, unfortunately.

BTW, I'm not the same anon that's hawking diet pills on your other post.

Denis Navratil said...

Nice post anon. If your interpretation of my post is that I am buying into Metra expansion, you are mistaken. I simply have absorbed new information which makes the expansion less objectionable, assuming the new info is correct.

And yes, I understand the federal spending shell game. However, as a local blogger on local issues, I recognize the limitations of my influence (none) on federal matters.

Regarding the drop in the subsidy amount, I did not ask the mayor, but my guess is it may have something to do with the fact that Metra is not actually linking up directly with the KRM. Do you know something on the subject?

Regarding my inquisitiveness, it is still there. But do you see no difference between a bridge to nowhere in Alaska and Metra extension in Racine? I don't like either of them, I can stop neither, but of the two I find the Metra extension less objectionable.

And as I said in concluding my initial post, I could very well fight against the local tax that will be needed to fund Metra.

In other words, anon, you needn't worry that I have been seduced by our mayor or that I have lost my inquisitiveness, and you can keep your swampland.

Nice post anon! Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

The drop in subsidy, from what I understand, is due to a proposed reduction in the number of trains and quality of the coaches. Could be as few as two trains a days. The bothersome part is that the KRM proponents seem to be playing their own shell game with the projected number of riders (given fewer trains) which calls into question the accuracy of local subsidy projections based on anticipated 0.46/rider.

And I have to take issue with your subjective view that METRA is more important than a "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska. Having been to Alaska and having relatives that have lived there, a bridge to nowhere could be exactly the impetus needed for growth, or vital future connections - IOW, it may connect to nowhere now, but that would likely change. Remember, in Alaska, most cities CANNOT connect via road...in fact some cities are only accessible via air or sea. Just as in Racine, "by the lake" raises property values, in Alaska, "by the runway or airstrip" is the location to be, if you're not by the ocean. And actually, I think you may be referring to an airstrip that was proposed in either Ketchikan or Skagway.

IOW, just because a project may seem to be "pork" to us, doesn't necessarily mean it has less merit to the locals - I'm sure Alaskans are wondering why are we (Alaskans) paying for a train, when they've (SE Wisconsin) got a freeway and at least 3 other major highways connecting those areas.

Bottom line - there's no free ride (pun intended) with any of these projects - YOU will be paying for METRA with YOUR Federal, State and local taxes.

I'm glad to hear you haven't been "seduced" by the mayor, because what continues to be the most frightening for me is that KRM proponents are seeking approval from municipalities of this plan (presenting it as a "concept") WITHOUT a definite funding mechanism in place. Giving these guys "carte blanche" to find the funding source once it's been approved is just not acceptable!