Saturday, July 16, 2011

31 Ways in 31 Days – Way #16
Shortsighted Cuts to Public Transit Hurt Working Families, the Disabled

In 2009, public transit services in Wisconsin provided more than 65 million rides. Whether by city bus, public taxi service, or commuter rail, public transit serves a vital purpose for Wisconsin’s families, especially the most vulnerable. Those who are unable to afford a car can utilize public transit to get to and from work, the disabled in our communities can use paratransit services to go about their lives, and children ride the bus to school and back home.

Unfortunately, the strength of Wisconsin’s public transit is at risk. The budget signed into law by Governor Walker includes a 10% cut to state public transit funding, which is likely to severely reduce transit services in some parts of the state.

These cuts will primarily impact the transit systems serving larger metropolitan areas. The Milwaukee County Transit System will lose more than $6.8 million in mass transit operating assistance, bearing the brunt of statewide cuts that total $11.8 million. Transit systems will be further hamstrung due to a budget provision that limits increases in property tax levies, the primary source of funding for public transit in Wisconsin.

Some claimed that transit systems would be able to make up for cuts in state funding by reducing system employee benefits with the limits on collective bargaining passed in Wisconsin Act 10. However, federal law does not allow for the modification of collective bargaining rights for transit workers for transit systems supported with federal money, and the workers were exempted from the new limits. As a result, the decrease in state funding will likely be addressed instead with a combination of service cuts, increases in fares, or increased local funding, the latter of which will likely need to be provided by cutting other services due to the previously mentioned limits on property tax increases.

In Milwaukee County, these cuts mean the likely loss of routes that bring riders from the suburbs to the city and back, and a reduction in service or elimination of additional routes. Despite an additional $5 million in increased statewide paratransit aid included in the budget by the Joint Finance Committee, paratransit ride fares for individuals with disabilities in Milwaukee County may increase from $1.25 to $4.50.

These short-sighted cuts to transit funding will harm Wisconsin’s working families and make it more difficult for the disabled in our communities to go about their lives. Going forward, policy makers should realize the value of a strong public transit system and work to restore what was cut in this budget.

Ben Nerad

Tomorrow—Way #17: YoungStar Quality Bonus Program (Tiered Reimbursement) Takes a Big Hit

About the series: “31 Ways in 31 Days” is a series of posts to the WCCF blog exploring the recently-passed biennial budget’s impact on children and families in Wisconsin. Each day in July, we are posting a description of one way the budget will affect kids and families, with an eye toward what should be done going forward to help improve outcomes and move us closer to the goal of making Wisconsin a place where every child has the opportunity to grow up, learn, and thrive in a safe, healthy, economically secure home and community.

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