Tag Archives: transportation

Why I’m voting no on the Wisconsin transportation referendum

All attention is focused on Mary Burke and Scott Walker, so I didn’t even realize there’s a state ballot proposition in next week’s election.  And it’s not a trivial one, either.

Question 1: “Creation of a Transportation Fund. Shall section 9 (2) of article IV and section 11 of article VIII of the constitution be created to require that revenues generated by use of the state transportation system be deposited into a transportation fund administered by a department of transportation for the exclusive purpose of funding Wisconsin’s transportation systems and to prohibit any transfers or lapses from this fund?”

Mary Burke supports this.  So does Governor Walker.  The bill to put the referendum on the ballot was passed by large majorities of both houses.  “Yes on 1” has an organized campaign and a snappy website; as far as I can tell, there is no such thing as “No on 1.”

But I’m voting no.  I don’t expect every dime of people’s property taxes to support upkeep of residential infrastructure.  I don’t think the sales tax should be restricted to promoting Wisconsin retail.  I think money is money and it’s the job of the legislature, not the constitution, to decide how money can best be raised and where in the state it’s most needed.

The amendment prevents gas taxes and vehicle registration fees from being used to fund schools and hospitals and police, but it doesn’t prevent other revenue sources from being raided to fund our highways and bridges.  And that’s what’s actually happening right now; the current administration takes $133 million from the general fund to fund transportation in the current budget.  I’m not sure why transportation, out of all state projects, ought to enjoy a special status:  allowed to draw money from the general fund, but constitutionally prohibited from releasing any back.

The Yes on 1 FAQ points out that many states around the country have constitutional language enforcing segregation of the the transportation fund.  I looked at a few of these, and it’s true!  But those provisions are of a rather different nature.  California’s constitutional provision requires that 25% of the money go to public transportation.  In Minnesota, it’s 40%.  Our referendum has no such restriction, requiring only that the money go to things funded by the DoT.  The Yes on 1 FAQ points out, correctly, that “Wisconsin’s segregated transportation fund is the sole source of state funding for the entire transportation system – highways, air, rail, transit, harbors, bicycle and pedestrian facilities.”  Pretty weak sauce — the fund will not be prohibited from funding other forms of transportation.  Unless an enterprising governor splits off transit into a separate department, that is.  (Ohio’s Constitution, by the way, already forbids gas taxes and license fees from aiding mass transit.)

The amendment establishes one class of spending and taxing as privileged above all the rest.  It shouldn’t be part of our state constitution.

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Explain to me why I should use Madison’s new bike-sharing program

I like bikes.  I like cities that support bikes.  But I don’t think I like Madison’s new B-cycle program.  Before the program started, my understanding was that for a small fee, I could check out a bike at a station and drop it off at another station.  Pretty useful if I needed to get quickly from place to place in town and didn’t have my bike with me.  But no — in order to get on a bike at all, I have to purchase a “24 hour pass,” which costs ten bucks.  But a 24-hour-pass doesn’t mean unlimited use of the bike for 24 hours — it just gives you the right to use the bike for half-hour trips.  Any more than that — say, if you want to take the bike to a store, buy something, and return the bike, rather than just going station-to-station — and you’re on the hook for more money: $2 for the second half-hour, $5 for each half-hour after that.  Who’s the market for paying $12 to run an errand by bike?

I can only think of two contexts in which this makes sense.  If I were a tourist, I would certainly pay the $10 and do free rides from place to place in order to get around Madison quickly and without worrying about parking.  As a local, I suppose if I thought I were likely to use the service a lot, I could pay $65 for an annual membership.  But I suspect the per-use cost would end up being very high.

Bike advocates who get good use from these programs — explain to me what they’re for!

Update:  Just to clarify for some commenters below — this program is private, operated by Trek, not (as far as I understand) subsidized by the city.  Trek has B-cycle systems running in about a dozen cities, and in most of them the daily rate is $5 or $6 (though in San Antonio it’s also $10.)  In Chicago there’s no daily pass at all, just a $5 minimum for a short ride.  B-cycle is one of two finalists to run bike-sharing in New York; I wonder what they’re proposing to charge?  In DC, which has a $5 minimum (different company), the service is apparently doing well; its 109 bikes made over 64,000 trips in March 2011.  Of course, DC’s combination of masses of carless tourists and mediocre public transportation is hard to match elsewhere.  But there are also 8,800 annual members, presumably locals; I wonder how many Madison has?

Re-update:  Actually, it looks like these programs do involve some municipal money in most cities.  Trek’s original proposal was that Madison would contribute $100K per year.  Mayor Soglin’s counteroffer was “How about nothing?  Is nothing good for you?”

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