Some people have no pride.
They're calling themselves "Cave Men and Women."
They are the opponents of the proposed $250 million Dane County Regional Transit Authority. Like any self-respecting refuseniks in this day and age of the tax tea parties, they have their own T-shirts. But they were there first.
Here in liberal Dane County, the Caveman movement predates the tea parties town hall protests by at least a year. They got their name from County Supervisor Tom Stoebig. The Madison near-east side liberal two summers ago disparaged those who object to the RTA as "knuckle-dragging Neanderthals."
The good-humored RTA protestors said if the T-shirt fits, wear it. Printed on the back of mine is our rallying cry: "Yabba Dabba Do." I got mine signed by Vicki McKenna, who peppers the airwaves with our primitive message.
Caveman, it turns out, is an acronym: Citizens Against Voting for Endless Madison Area Nonsense. A lot of big words, if you ask me. Ugga bugga!
The Fred Flintstone of the Caveman movement is retired UW-Madison music professor Bill Richardson. A man of great good humor, he has devoted a web site to the cause, The Great Train Robbery.
His issue is coming to a head. A Regional Transit Authority will be hashed over - but not decided - 6:30 p.m. Monday, October 26, in Room 201B at the downtown City-County Building. The occasion is a joint meeting of two county committees: Public Works & Transportation and Personnel & Finance. But the full County Board could get the issue yet this fall for a final decision.
As proposed by Dane County Board Chairman Scott McDonell, the RTA would be governed by a 9-member appointed board with the power to tack on another half-cent tax on every sale in addition to the current 5.5 percent sales tax.
Although it would nominally encompass all "transportation," few doubt that its first order of business would be to inaugurate a 16-mile Middleton-Madison-Burke commuter rail line.
Some people have no pride
Let the people decide
The question is whether Dane County voters will have a say in the matter. McDonell's resolution would seem to call for a referendum, but only after the RTA is formed. The formation of an RTA itself requires only a majority of those county board members who show up to vote when the issue hits the floor.
In other words, the County Board by simple majority vote would first create the RTA and only then seek voter approval in the affected areas for the imposition of a sales tax. The RTA board itself would draw up the referendum's language at some future time.
McDonell's resolution reads only: "Resolved, that the RTA develop language for a referendum."
And there's still some doubt whether it would be binding, although proponents insist it would.
"That's a question for corporation counsel," says Supervisor Eileen Bruskewitz,. She notes that the state legislation signed by Gov. Jim E. Doyle enabling the local RTA requires no referendum.
Cave Man Richardson calls the promise of a referendum "a cruel, cynical practical joke on the public."
Even if it is binding, opponents are asking how many kicks at the cat the RTA will get or how the referendum will be worded.
"My guess is that the referendum (wording) will be something like: 'Do you want more transportation choices in Dane County,'" Richardson says.
That's not good enough for Supervisor Bruskewitz. She is putting forward her own resolution: no RTA in the first place until and unless county voters approve a binding referendum that specifically authorizes a new sales tax:
Shall a Dane County Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) levy a sales tax of 0.5% on all taxable sales within the jurisdiction of the RTA in Dane County, to support transit services, which could include commuter rail transportation?
In other words, even if the County Board this fall does approve formation of an RTA, it could not go into effect until such voter approval, under the Bruskewitz resolution.
Her binding referendum would be held in conjunction with the Spring elections next April 6. My read on the current makeup of the County Board is that Eileen's resolution faces an uphill battle.
It will be interesting to see how The Capital Times lands, given that my old alma mater thinks something so comparatively trivial as a TIF for the Edgewater Hotel expansion should be put up to a referendum.
Taxation without representation?
The RTA would cover only Madison and its close-in neighbors - Fitchburg but not Oregon, Waunakee but not DeForest, Middleton but not Cross Plains, Cottage Grove but not Deerfield.
The nine members of the RTA board would be appointed to four-years terms: 2 from Madison (mayor nominates, council approves), 2 by the county (county exec/Board), one each from Fitchburg, Middleton and Sun Prairie, one by the governor, and one from all the other smaller municipalities on a rotating basis.
That's one of the criticisms. The president of the Dane County Towns Association, Jerry Derr, notes that the 15 towns, including his Town of Bristol, that would be included in the proposed RTA are home to 53,000 residents but would have no representation at all. That is a major fault. Even "Havana" Paul Soglin has complained about representation: 2 members for 240,000 population Madison and one for 18,000 population Fitchburg? Huh?
And then there is the additional tax. I just bought a 2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac from a Madison dealer. Nice vehicle. The RTA tax would have added $90 to the sticker price - in addition to the $990 I already paid in taxes. Think I won't travel a few miles to save $90 for my next vehicle purchase?
Add that to the 7.7 percent increase in the county tax rate proposed by The Kathleen, plus and the $15 wheel tax proposed by Progressive Dane. The City of Madison's budget will add 3.85 percent to your property tax bill - probably more, when the alders get through with it.
There is also the criticism of an unelected board with its hands on $42 million of our tax dollars annually - plus the bonding indebtedness to raise an estimated $250 million to put the trains on track.
Daveman in Amtrak's sleeper cave
Are your knuckles sore?
I would feel a smidgeon better about the whole thing if The Kathleen and her amen corner (the county board majority) would get serious about the real transportation issues in Dane County:
- Build a parkway north of Lake Mendota to connect U.S. 12 with Interstate 90-94-39.
- Build a limited access highway south of the current Beltline to relieve traffic from Verona Road originating in Iowa and southwest Wisconsin that is destined for either Milwaukee or the Fox Valley.
Derr contends that the RTA agenda is all about land use, not transportation: "The rail advocates don't want to go with buses because their agenda really isn't about transportation. It's about land use. They want to build a rail system so they have a reason to force all new development to within a half-mile of the rail corridor."
That would sound a mite paranoid to me if I had not served 12 years on the Dane County Board with the likes of John Hendrick and Brett Hulsey.
The final beef the anti-RTA people have is with trains themselves. They don't like trains. I do. I've taken Amtrak sleeper cars to Washington D.C., Albuquerque, N.M., and New Orleans, La. (Not to mention Europe.) It is the only way to travel; beats the tedium of driving and avoids the empty-your-pockets hassle of airport security.
But I question how many are actually going to take a train from Middleton to Madison who don't already take the bus.
What makes far more sense to me is a Madison to Milwaukee line, as Gov. Jim E. Doyle has outlined. (And from there, to Chicago and Union Station.) Think of all the state employees who have to get to the Madison offices and could spend their transit time doing something useful, reading or writing reports, for instance.
Better yet, returning well oiled to Madison from Miller Park, State Fair Park, and Summerfest without having to encounter Jeff Wood on the highway! All aboard!