It was always about commuter rail, not buses.
That much is made clear by a February 5, 2010 letter from County Executive Kathleen Falk, over her signature, asking U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin "to support the attached request of $30 million to help fund the Commuter Train project from Middleton to an East Madison station."
Notice? It is "the Commuter Train project." Not a mass transit project. In fact, among the 400+ words composing her letter, not once is the word "bus" used. By contrast, the words "train" or "rail" or some variation thereof are used eight times.
The Kathleen asks for the $30 million "earmark" to "help make commuter trains operate." Be assured, she tells Congressman Baldwin,
"We have worked hard here locally and successfully to create a Regional Transit Authority and a local funding mechanism (1/2 cent sales tax.) We have done our part to make a local match available to obtain vitally important federal dollars."
My friend Sunny Schubert writes in the Monona Herald:
When Dane County Sup. Don Imhoff brought up the letter at Monday's Monona City Council meeting, well, it was the closest thing to a bombshell that dropped all night.
That's because the letter says not one word about "expanded bus service," which was the talking point all the anti-referendum people kept making. It was all about commuter rail. Of course it was. It always has been. Commuter rail will be the centerpiece of whatever plan the Regional Transit Authority puts together to try to sell the half-cent sales tax hike.
Sunny, a resident of Monona, notes that their county supervisor, Robin Schmidt, wanted the City Council to deny giving Monona citizens a vote this November on commuter rail. She reports that Monona Mayor Robb Kahl noted that Monona residents would end up paying about $700,000 in sales tax to the RTA, but no one would promise that the city would get $700,000 in increased transit services in return. The Monona mayor's position is:
"No trains, expand buses," Kahl said. "But this application from Dane County clearly speaks to trains."
The liberal lament: 'Where is the plan?'
Lukas Diaz calls it, "An entirely preventable political problem:"
If it is too difficult to get things done on time, well I can think of a person or two who understands urgency. This plan needs to get before the voters by April 2011.
I really just don't get it. There are really great people on the RTA. They know transit, they know politics … but where is the plan? They could have built, at least partially, on the Transport 2020 Plan to get a head start.
If there's an electoral disaster for the Democrats at the state level this November, and there very well could be, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the RTA falls apart...
April 2011? Too late. The train will (ahem) have left the station.
Scottie McD's liberal county board had a chance to include Madison in a countywide referendum this fall but blew it.
Blaska's Bottom Line: Scott Walker and the Republicans running for the Legislature this November are watching the Dane County RTA commuter rail vote in 45 communities. They will be taking notes.