A HUGE waste of taxpayers dollars, indeed!
In the face of appalling arrogance by the majority elites controlling Dane County government, many communities through the county will place their own referenda on the November 2 general election ballot to ask their voters whether they want to be taxed for commuter rail.
They are doing so despite the admonition of Dane County Clerk Bob Ohlsen, who infamously called local referenda "a HUGE waste of taxpayer dollars."
But several communities in Dane County care enough about the sovereignty of the people that they will ask their voters whether they wish to have their taxes increased by $42 million a year for commuter rail.
Waunakee (population 11,520) and Cottage Grove (population 6,248) have already approved holding a referendum in their villages. So have the Towns of Burke (3,081 in 2000) and Middleton (5,230).
The Village of Cross Plains and the Towns of Bristol, Sun Prairie, Black Earth, and Vermont will consider the same referendum question at their meetings on Monday, August 9. The towns of Westport and Springfield will vote August 16, the Town of Verona on September 3. More municipalities are said to be considering referenda of their own.
Folks, democracy is breaking out all over despite efforts by The Kathleen to ignore the will of the people.
The referenda language is that proposed by County Supervisor Eileen Bruskewitz and others at the county level.
"Shall commuter rail from Middleton to the Town of Burke be funded by up to a half-cent (0.5%) increase in the sales tax?"
Yes, these local referenda are advisory, as would be the all-county and/or RTA district-only referenda. The Democrat currently occupying the governor's office vetoed out language that would have required a binding referendum in the enabling state legislation.
But will even the RTA Board, chosen for their allegiance to commuter rail, have the political will to carry on if the voters say no? The U.S. Department of Transportation wants to gauge popular support before it pitches in with its half of the infrastructure costs.
The Bristol resolution, for example, reasons:
The RTA has not yet scheduled a referendum on the sales tax, but the November 2010 general election is approaching, and this election, with its large voter turnout, is the most appropriate time for a referendum on the sales tax to be held. Given that neither the RTA nor the Dane County Board has acted to schedule a referendum in November 2010, it is appropriate that a referendum be held at the local level to give residents an opportunity to voice their opinion on this important question.
Indeed, County Supervisor Matt Veldran is holding a countywide referendum hostage in his committee on orders from Chairman Scott McDonell. This is the kind of non-responsiveness that makes tea parties, folks.
A HUGE waste?
Obviously, the elected leaders of these communities do not agree with Dane County Clerk Bob Ohlsen. As Blaska's Blog first reported last week, Ohlsen told Dane County's village, city and town clerks that a local referendum on the Regional Transit Authority would be a "huge waste" of taxpayer dollars. His e-mailed memo actually capitalized the word "HUGE." I reproduce it here:
From: Ohlsen, Robert [Ohlsen@co.dane.wi.us]
Sent: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 10:36 AM
Subject: November Referendum
I have seen the proposed referendum being circulated to municipalities urging them to put a referendum question regarding the RTA on the November ballot. … It's my opinion that it's a HUGE waste of your taxpayers' dollars. Should your municipality vote to put it on, please aware that it isn't going to make one bit of difference. The RTA Commission will call for a referendum at some point and ONLY the people in the RTA District will be allowed to vote.
"At some point." Now, isn't that reassuring.
I would also argue that Bob is wrong in saying that the results of a referendum "isn't going to make one bit of difference." If a few more communities post referenda and the vote is conclusive, one way or other, it's going to make tons of difference.
Even the Capital Times this week said Ohlsen was wrong about opposing a referendum but seems to have nothing to say about the County Board's intransigence. Of course, the pro-commuter rail CT impugns the motives of commuter rail opponents. It is the only news outlet in the state that does this kind of thing:
Nor does it mean that all of (pro-referenda advocates) are sincere democrats who genuinely care about direct democracy or the popular will. They aren't.
Now, how does The Capital Times know this? Did it uncover some secret documents hatching a dastardly plan to pull the old switcheroo on the voters? Who are these people who do not genuinely care about democracy? I am writing to Capital Times editor Paul Fanlund to ask that he name them.
Because I know these people. I happen to be one of them. Some of them are frustrated that commuter rail seems to be "full steam ahead," if you'll pardon the expression. But the north beltline/parkway around the top of Lake Mendota -- a road citizens in northern Dane County demonstrably want -- is stuck in neutral.
Others are fiscal deficit hawks who worry about the $42 million annually in additional sales tax, the bonding and indebtedness to pay for the start-up costs of $255 million -- $125 million of that coming out of Dane County's pockets. They wonder who is going to take the commuter train that isn't already taking the bus. Now THERE is a HUGE waste of taxpayer dollars.
As Sup. Bruskewitz has said, it's time the RTA board got a reality check; $7 million has already been expended on commuter rail in Dane County, she says. (At this point, let's remember that the Dane County RTA commuter rail is a separate proposal from the Madison to Milwaukee high-speed rail project.)
My own particular beef is with the nine-member RTA board, unelected and appointed by seven different appointing authorities! You don't like what the RTA is doing? You can't vote them out of office. You can't even vote their appointive authorities out of office because how do you know who appointed whom? ("No, no. My appointee voted against the majority.")
Folks: without accountability, democracy is a sham.
Cynics at the "voice of progressivism"
Here's some more demonizing from that Capital Times editorial:
... It is also true that many of the advocates for local referendums are cynics who want to stir false fears because they know they cannot win an honest debate over commuter rail.
I have asked Capital Times editor Fanlund to name these "cynics." I want to know, in The Capital Times' opinion, what are the "false fears" they are supposedly stirring up? I would like Mr. Fanlund to explicate: why do you say we cannot win an honest debate when we are the ones initiating that debate? What are we saying that is "dishonest?" I want particulars.
False fears? How about people who stir false promises? How about correcting Dave Zweifel's recent column that claimed the $42 million raised annually by the RTA's sales tax increase can be spent on roads. Not true. It can't. Not a dime. False on its face.
I hope the CT bothers to read the on-line comments of its audience: "Patricko" nails it:
Excuse me but doesn't putting a referendum on the ballot result in a debate? And while it's not surprising that you accuse your opponents of having bad intentions (you pretty much always do,) exactly how does one have a dishonest debate? If one party in a debate makes false claims, that would seem to me to be the perfect time to expose that dishonesty and make your case. And it's BS to say that commuter rail opponents are avoiding any discussion. They are the ones raising hell and fighting this boondoggle while the rail advocates keep trying to blow this past everybody before they know what hit them.
Sympathy for Mr. Ohlsen
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.
That is another reason the referendum should be countywide because, to a great degree, the tax will be levied against residents throughout the county who shop in the retail centers of Madison, Middleton, Fitchburg, and Sun Prairie.
One liberal wit argued, "Likewise, might the residents of, say, Kenosha have an opinion on whether the sales taxes they pay when they shop in Chicago be increased?"
There's no need to go to the next county, much less the next state. This is two sales tax rates within the same county! Indeed, within the same rural town.
That idiotic boundary is shown here: