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Alder proposes alternative funding source to wheel tax

MADISON (WKOW) — Madison alder Michael Tierney is proposing a new ordinance that could provide a way to get rid of the city’s new $40 vehicle registration fee but still fund public transportation.

He’s hoping that if Dane County one day establishes a Regional Transit Authority (RTA), the city would be able to sunset the wheel tax. He said it’s a way to send a signal to Madison residents that they won’t have pay the “regressive” tax indefinitely.

“I want to set the stage to let people know there is a desire to have something more equitable and fair in place as soon as we possibly can,” he said.

But right now, Regional Transit Authorities aren’t even legal in Wisconsin. In 2009, the Democratic-controlled Legislature gave the green light to several of them, including one in Dane County.

Just two years later, the newly Republican-controlled Legislature made them illegal. This effectively ended all discussions and plans that were in the works.

Curt Witynski with the League of Wisconsin Municipalities told 27 News there hasn’t been much serious discussion about restoring them since then.

“Since then, our association with other local government groups would support restoring that authority but it really hasn’t had a voice in the current majority,” he said.

Tierney admitted it may take a while for the state Legislature to come around, but he thinks it’s more of a “when” than “if” situation.

“If members of both political parties gathered together and listened to their local communities and helped to create this viable mechanism for meeting transportation and transit means, I think it could get done,” he said.

He said he believes the pay disparity seen with the wheel tax would be lessened with an RTA. With even a half-cent bump in sales tax county-wide, those who spend more money would be the ones paying more, he said.

They’d also capture more funds from tourists who are visiting the area for events, but driving on the roads. He also thinks people who don’t ride the bus could benefit.

“Even for people that would be inclined not to take transit, that would be driving in from other areas, if we can make transit a better option for residents and others, we decrease the amount of traffic,” he said. “They get to work sooner, they’re not stuck idly in traffic.”

Even if the state Legislature passed it, the RTA would need further discussions from county stakeholders to figure out how the funds would be collected and who would monitor it. Tierney said he thinks each individual municipality in the county could have its own share of the funds to improve transportation needs.

The federal government also needs to see proof of a steady funding source for transportation, otherwise the city loses out on federal funding. Tierney said this ordinance provides that.

“As a safeguard to make sure we aren’t losing out on anything, the finance director, transportation director, and city attorney would look at it to make sure it wouldn’t cost us a dime in federal money,” he said.

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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