Although the Dane County Board narrowly approved forming a Regional Transit Authority last week, dozens of Dane County residents turned out against it. The meeting began Thursday and stretched well into Friday morning.
Several speakers objected to giving an appointed body taxation power. "No taxation without representation" was a familiar refrain. Others urged a referendum on the RTA itself, rather than on whatever plans it comes up with.
"We need to have a debate," said one man. "We need to put this question to the citizens."
Almost 90 people spoke, split roughly evenly between those in favor and those against. Rail opponent Bill Richardson, a spokesman for the Dane County GOP, is "very pleased and proud of the people who showed up and spoke. These are just folks."
That the pro side prevailed, says board chair Scott McDonell, owes in part to the tenor of the opposition.
"Not everyone was angry, but you could tell there was this underlying anger that was appearing. I don't think that helps make a case. Probably good for talk radio, but not good for persuading supervisors."
Several supervisors backed efforts to stall formation of the RTA or to impose more controls. Those efforts failed.
The next step is to create the nine-member RTA. County Executive Kathleen Falk and Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz both get to name two members; the governor and executives of Fitchburg, Middleton, Sun Prairie and the Dane County Cities and Villages Association each get to name one. There is no deadline for these appointments, and McDonell doesn't expect the authority to meet until early next year.
The RTA will then come up with a mass transit plan, which may or may not include a rail option. Then a binding referendum will be held on that plan, and any possible sales tax to finance it, probably no sooner than November 2010. The tax will be imposed only within the geographic boundaries of the RTA, and only residents of these areas will get to vote for or against it.