In the face of this blockade of democracy at the county level, more and more municipalities are holding their own referenda. Looks like you can add the city of Sun Prairie, the second most populous city in the county (29,021), to the list of municipalities that will ask voters yea or nay on the RTA.
Sun Prairie's City Council is scheduled to vote August 17 on placing a commuter rail referendum on the November 2 ballot.
Sun Prairie Ald. Jon Freund says he believes the council will approve the referendum unanimously. "Sun Prairie will be on the books shortly sending this to local referendum, I have little doubt about that."
And Mt. Horeb will vote this Wednesday to do so. That is in addition to those I reported in the last blog as already approving referenda or considering doing so: the villages of Waunakee, Cottage Grove, and Cross Plains, and the Towns or Burke, Middleton, Bristol, Sun Prairie, Black Earth, Vermont, Westport, Springfield, and Verona.
The County Clerk apologizes
Sun Prairie Ald. Freund said he was stunned that County Clerk Bob Ohlsen would advise municipal clerks that holding referenda would be a "HUGE waste of taxpayer dollars" and that it "isn't going to make one bit of difference."
But he's happy to report that Ohlsen apologized for his comments:
You are absolutely correct that my comments to the clerks regarding the RTA referendum question being a waste of time and taxpayer dollars were out of line. It was an editorial comment that should not have been written. I wrote it as a side comment without even thinking that it would be taken as a directive to take to their boards and councils. Later that afternoon I wrote a note of apology to the clerks for having said it was a waste of money. My guess is that you or nobody else saw that email.
... I have taken the rest of your comments to heart. We always learn from criticism, even though it may hurt.
'Crossing ward lines and following bike paths'
Also in the last blog, I sympathized with the county clerk, who is tasked with the near-impossible job of making sense of the squiggly lines that constitute the Regional Transit Authority district.
County Clerk Olsen is right about one thing. Setting up a vote in the RTA district is a big job that would drive a computer programmer crazy. The RTA boundary was overlaid onto the Metropolitan Planning Area map. It truncates 11 towns and one city, Fitchburg.
The RTA district does not exist in voter rolls. It comports to no known unit of government: not even school districts. The work involved would be incredibly laborious. And that is just at the clerk's level. The WI Department of Revenue would have to do similar work to determine whether a retail outlet lay within the RTA boundary. It would have the same problem with residents, who would owe the equivalent "use tax" if the retailer did not collect the sales tax. It's a bureaucratic nightmare.
Sure enough, Ohlsen confirms that issue in the second half of his e-mail to Ald. Freund:
The boundaries of the RTA are not cut-and-dried boundaries - they cross ward lines, supervisory lines, school district lines, and some even follow bike paths and rail lines.
We then went to the Government Accountability Board staff to see what needed to be done in the Statewide Voter Registration System to create a program that would differentiate between them. This is essential in determining what ballot each voter gets (with or without the RTA referendum). Once we determined a way to do it, they began to write their program and do the required testing. We had hoped to be ready to begin doing the rest of our work by July 1st, giving us time to make sure only the voters within the RTA would receive a referendum ballot when the time came. It is now August and we are still waiting for them to finish their work.
All the more reason to have a countywide election. Virtually everyone in the county will pay the RTA sales tax anyway.
Journalistic Tourette's Syndrome
We want a referendum of the people on RTA. The Capital Times wants a referendum on RTA. But their motives are pure and patriotic. Oddly, those of us who first proposed the referenda are:
"cynics who want to stir false fears because they know they cannot win an honest debate over commuter rail."
- If we know we can't win then why are we the ones asking for a referendum? Why are The Kathleen, Scott McDonell and Matt Veldran holding up a countywide referendum? Is it because they know they can't win?
- If we are being dishonest, show us where.
- If we are stirring false fears, counter with true reassurances.
Accusing people with whom you disagree of being cynical is the lazy man's way out. It is much easier to impugn motives -- which are essentially unprovable -- rather than arguing facts. It is easier to demonize your opponent than counter his arguments. He's a bad guy, a terrible person. Probably a closet racist.
Which is kind of cynical.
I asked Capital Times editor Paul Fanlund to name these cynics. Associate editor John Nichols responded. John actually sounded proud of his journalistic Tourettes Syndrome.
"Now, I must admit I was surprised that you were upset by the suggestion that politicians and activists sometimes act cynically. ... And, yes, we do think it is cynical to demand that referendums be held before issues have been defined -- effectively asking voters to cast ballots when they do not have all the facts. Far from being a genuine embrace of democracy, this seems to us to be a manipulation of the electoral process intended to produce a result that can then be claimed as a rejection of the RTA or commuter rail."
In which case, why does The Capital Times now support a referendum? Isn't that ... cynical?
- A referendum of the people will assure that those issues are defined.
- Too early because the RTA board has not devised a detailed plan? Is the issue really whether the diesel-engine train will stop on East Johnson Street or East Gorham?
- The issue is: do the people want commuter rail and are they willing to pay extra taxes amounting to $42 million a year for it? Those are legitimate questions to ask before we go so far down the track that there's no turning back.
Are the neighborhood associations pushing for commuter rail? The towns and villages? I hear a lot of interest in a south beltline bypass to alleviate truck traffic on Verona Road. The Middleton- Deforest-Waunakee area wants a north beltline/parkway. Commuter rail will solve neither of those problems. The proponents have made no case for it. The people aren't asking for it. Yet, somehow, it is being done.
Let me suggest that it is cynical to create a nine-member board, unelected, with the statutory power to raise taxes without recourse to the voters. They can't be voted in or out and they don't have to seek permission of the voters to raise taxes. It is cynical to have seven different appointing authorities to appoint those nine members so that if voters did want to change course, they'd be hard-pressed to figure who really was responsible for which appointment.
And you wonder why the tea party movement!
Tiger Woods lost by 30 strokes after shooting 18 over par at the Bridgestone golf tournament over the weekend. I've always wished I could play golf like Tiger Woods. Now I can.