Sunday, November 24, 2013

What you may not know: Week of November 24 - Regional Transit Authorities and You

The Appleton Common Council has an abbreviated committee meeting schedule this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday and Tuesday's Christmas Parade. You can see agendas for the four committees that are meeting here, if you're interested.

If you've read Sunday's edition of the Post Crescent, though, you know that I've been busy with another issue. Last week Alderman Jeff Jirschele and I co-sponsored a resolution calling for the city to support state legislation allowing a referendum to determine if a new sales tax could be used to fund a regional transit authority (RTA).

This new source of funding could go a long way to stabilize the long term future of Valley Transit, which provides safe and reliable transportation to passengers and businesses across the Fox Valley. Before that can happen, though, we need the state to give us permission to ask.

Any proposed new sales tax (the law calls for up to .5%, but Valley Transit is only likely to ask for .1 or .2) would have to pass a referendum before being enacted. And the referendum can't happen without the state legislature passing a bill that would allow us to do so. This legislation has been proposed multiple times but has never passed in both houses. This year it's Senate Bill 259 and Assembly Bill 349, but neither body has held a hearing on it.

I think it's important when discussing this legislation to remember what it is and what it isn't. The proposed bill won't create a new sales tax, or any tax at all. What it will do is allow a referendum that will allow the voters to decide if a supplemental sales tax is needed. All we're asking for here is permission to let democracy run its course.

The unfortunate reality of the moment is that future planning for Valley Transit has been impacted by uncertainty in long term funding. I'm a strong believer that creating a Regional Transit Authority to stabilize the organization would be a good thing for this community going forward, at a very minimal cost (a .1% increase in sales tax would be one cent for every $10 spent).

However, if a new sales tax isn't going to happen, knowing that would also help us plan for the future. Eliminating this possibility will likely have a negative impact on the future of public transit in the valley, but at least then we would know that we'll have to make some tough choices going forward and be in a position to brace ourselves for that impact.

Allowing the voters to choose which direction we go here is the epitome of democracy. I hope the state legislature can come together and agree to let residents of the Fox Valley decide how to proceed.

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