Leave aside estimates that only 5,500 passengers will ride the Dane County commuter train. Forget that each trip will need to be subsidized to the tune of $40+. Never mind that the train doesn't really go anywhere that buses can't already take you and more cheaply.
It's the dishonest way it was done. No wonder it was a rush job. Barely two weeks after introduction of the RTA resolution by the chairman of the board it gets action. That's the fastest turn-around I have seen in 12 years of service on the county board and the three years since.
The governance of the Regional Transit Authority was approved in the dark of night by a 20-16 vote early this morning while the rest of the civilized world slept. It is:
- A scandal.
- An appalling betrayal of the principles of good government.
- A scam worthy of an attorney general investigation.
This RTA thing has all the makings of a Dane County-brewed tea party that will boil over well past April county board elections. The Kathleen will sign the RTA into law. My small satisfaction is that she will be signing away any chance she might have had for the governor's mansion.
I heard most of the testimony last night from the comfort of my home. I confess to you I under-estimated the depth of passion by ordinary people against it. Their anger will multiply as more people realize how democracy was subverted.
Over 300 citizens filled out forms to speak or register their opinion at Thursday night's County Board meeting. Most of the people who testified in four hours of testimony spoke in opposition to the creation of a Regional Transit Authority but the clerk's office was still sorting out the numbers this morning.
All of those who testified in opposition were civil but many were plenty steamed.
Many of the same phrases kept popping up: "taxation without representation, unelected, unaccountable" and "future indebtedness." These are words that have peppered the tea parties nationally.
Only a cynical partisan apparatchik will call these people Stepford wives or Astroturf. Yes, Vicki McKenna helped stir some of them up. For that she deserves a journalism award and our thanks. She and Bill Richardson. (Catch his blog at The Great Train Robbery.)
Planning in a vacuum
Let me start out with one of RTA's biggest advocates, former County Board chairman Dick Wagner. I respect Dick Wagner. I like Dick Wagner. And I agree with Dick Wagner - on this one point:
Wagner, a prime mover of Transport 2020, testified Thursday that "land use and transportation are inextricably linked."
Quite right! Then why would one take a cleaver and unlink transportation from land use when Dane County government is already, for all practical purposes, metropolitan government? Dane County does land use now (outside of incorporated municipalities). It has a transportation committee. Why then divorce that from transportation?
Why create yet another confusing unit of government when we already have 37 county supervisors?
Yet, that was the supposed virtue of the RTA - metropolitan planning. Taking a cohesive, comprehensive look at the transportation needs of Wisconsin's fastest-growing county.
But now transportation will be planned in a vacuum by a separate board with only second-hand access to other key growth decisions: sewage treatment, zoning, conservation acreage, and other service area inputs.
Taxation without representation
Why did they do it this way? Because county government is controlled by dishonest cowards. Cowards because they don't have the guts to raise taxes to fund their commuter train scheme. Dishonest, because when the nine-member RTA board does assess its half-cent sales tax to raise $42 million a year, the elected county supervisors can say, it wasn't us!
(It ain't me babe. No, no, no, it ain't me yer lookin' for.)
This extra tax will make Dane County the most heavily taxed county in the state with a 6.0 percent sales tax. It comes at a time when the County Board is cutting human services and police protection. And now that the RTA is created, there is absolutely nothing any elected representative of the people can do to it.
An unaccountable board
The RTA board will be un-elected and un-accountable. It's not even beholden to the County Board or executive, who will appoint only two of its nine members. The governor (the governor?!), the cities of Madison, Middleton, Fitchburg and Sun Prairie, and the villages get an appointee. It will have many fathers but no master. Got a beef with what the RTA is doing? Who do you take it out on at election time?
For 53,000 residents of the proposed service area who live outside of villages and cities - in the unincorporated towns - there will be no representation at all.
Mayor Jay Allen of Fitchburg told a whopper last night. He said his appointment to the RTA Board will be held accountable to himself as mayor and to his city council. He intimated that he would yank back his appointment if the appointee strayed. He's dreaming. The enabling legislation gives him no such power. Once the appointment is made, the RTA board member is a free agent.
The other lie is that the RTA will hold a referendum to get permission from voters before it levies a tax. County Board chairman Scott McDonell's resolution reads only: "Resolved, that the RTA develop language for a referendum."
The RTA is not required to hold a referendum. Nor need it comply with the results if it does hold one.
Language that might have required bowing to the will of the people was vetoed out of the enabling legislation this summer by Gov. Jim E. Doyle. And yeah, that legislation itself was passed in the dark of night without a hearing. Hidden within the huge omnibus budget bill. How fitting!
County Corporation Counsel Marcia McKenzie shot down Sup. Eileen Bruskewitz's proposal to hold a referendum before creating an RTA. McKenzie opined that the county could not hold a referendum in just the RTA area. (I would have said "thanks for the opinion, now I want a roll call on my resolution.")
I am convinced that most of Dane County remains unaware of the RTA. The resolution (#152) was introduced only last week. As Bill Richardson said, even that meeting was scheduled only a few days in advance. But they turned out Thursday night.
- Sup. Dave Wiganowsky asked what the nine-member appointed RTA board would pay itself for a salary. Nobody knows. (The correct answer is: whatever it wants.)
- Sup. Ripp asked what would happen if the promised (but not mandated) referendum failed. Nobody knew. (The correct answer is: don't need no stinkin' referendum.)
- Wiganowsky asked if there was any limit to the funds that an RTA could borrow. No one could answer. (Correct answer: whatever the bond markets will tolerate.)
- Who will be appointed to the RTA board? True believers.
Calling Mark Neumann. Paging Scott Walker. Please add to your agenda the following: make it your mission to repeal Assembly Bill 75 of 2009 Wisconsin Act 28 that enables this anti-democratic monstrosity!
In the meantime, who'll join me in a class action lawsuit?
Harassing and intimidating opponents
What happens when some citizens who happen to be business people speak out against this miscarriage of democracy? They are intimidated. They get threatened with legal action.
Thomas Wilkinson, Chairman and CEO of the Wisconsin Community Bank on Madison's Mineral Point Road, made the mistake of making known his opposition to his county board supervisor, Al Matano.
Now, Al Matano is not only Progressive Dane, he is The Kathleen's appointee as chairman of the Madison Metropolitan Planning Organization, which forms the bulk of the Regional Transit Authority's domain. Here is Supervisor Al Matano's response to a constituent:
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Friday, October 30, 2009 12:35 PM
To: Wilkinson, Thomas J.
Subject: RE: VOTE NO TO THE RTA AND NO TO NEW SPENDING AND TAXES
Greetings, Mr. Wilkinson: Given the fact that three officers of the Bank identified themselves as such in offering this opinion, including the Chairman and CEO, I'll be asking the Department of Financial Institutions Office of Legal Counsel whether or not DFI has an issue with your bank taking a stand on a legislative matter.
Dane County Board, District 11
He also made every attempt to kill the Highways 151 and C interchange a few years back. County Supervisor Eileen Bruskewitz reports: "Fortunately, he and the other Falk appointments to the MPO were chided by Secretary Busilacchi and this $17M road project went forward."
Didn't I just blog that the "taking" class is at war with the "making" class?
In the string of e-mails I intercepted, Wilkinson himself comments:
Interesting the response (threat) that I received from Mr. Al Matano. I have emailed the supervisor to inform him that Wisconsin Community Bank does not have an opinion on RTA. Our staff and fellow taxpayers may well have a strong opinion. I am just wondering why someone would attempt to threaten a fellow citizen with some form of action by just expressing an opinion that those elected seem to always express an interest in?
But Al Matano is just the kind of totalitarian hijacker who is calling the shots in county government and will be doing so for the RTA.
The roll call, please
The County Board voted 20-16 to set up an unelected and unaccountable Regional Transit Authority:
YES - 20
Carousel Bayrd, near westside Madison
David de Felice, southeast side Madison
Elaine DeSmidt, far eastside Madison
Chuck Erickson, St. Mary's Hospital area Madison
John Hendrick, Willy Street area Madison
Brett Hulsey, westside Madison
Jeremy Levin, Monroe Street area Madison
Wyndham Manning, campus Madison
Al Matano, near Westside Madison
Scott McDonell, downtown Madison
Patrick Miles, McFarland
Mark Opitz, Middleton
Kyle Richmond, south Madison
Paul Rusk, northeast side Madison
Barb Schmidt, Monona
Tom Stoebig, near eastside Madison
Sheila Stubbs, south Madison
Barb Vedder, near eastside Madison
Matt Veldran, southwest Madison
Dorothy Wheeler, northeast Madison
No - 16
Eileen Bruskewitz, Waunakee
Bob Downing, Blanchardville
Denise Duranczyk, Stoughton
Ronn Ferrell, southwest Madison
Melanie Hampton, southwest Madison
Diane Hesselbein, northwest Madison
Gerald Jensen, Oregon
Jeff Kostelic, Sun Prairie
Jack Martz, Fitchburg
Dennis O'Loughlin, DeForest
Dave Ripp, Waunakee
Bob Salov, Cambridge
Kurt Schlicht, Cross Plains
Cynda Solberg, Cottage Grove
David Wiganowsky, Sun Prairie
Mike Willett, Verona
Absent - 1
Daune Gau, Sun Prairie