Dale Kooyenga, Trolley Killer?

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Dale Kooyenga, Trolley Killer?

CREATED Mar. 28, 2013

If you heard loud noises coming from Milwaukee City Hall Wednesday afternoon, please don't worry.  It was simply the sound of anguished screams from the Mayor's Office.

In pushing for his 2.1 mile streetcar line designed to connect the bus depot to the lower East Side, Mayor Barrett has claimed that very few local taxpayer dollars will be involved.  Since the $65 million that underwrite the project comes largely from Federal funds, I guess the Mayor views it as "free" money.  The fact that several more million dollars will undoubtedly be necessary each year to operate the trolley apparently doesn't count either.

As an aside, I think this whole thing is a small part of a larger plan.  Assuming the street car line is built, I have no doubt that ridership will be almost non-existent.  The excuse we'll then hear is that usage is low because the trolley doesn't go to enough places - or the right places.  So, the claim will be, we need to spends hundreds of millions of more dollars to expand the line to UWM, to the lakefront, to the north side, to Marquette, to the Valley ... to the moon, wherever.

As a matter of fact, I've been told that some elected officials have agreed to support the trolley line based on exactly this premise.  There's nothing in it for them now - but just wait.

Anyway, State representative Dale Kooyenga may have come up with a way to do something that nobody in the City of Milwaukee has managed to do thus far - namely slay the monster that is the trolley.

Building the trolley will require tearing up streets and moving utility lines.  The cost of this process will probably be at least $30 million and could be up to $55 million depending on the ultimate route that is selected.  Mayor Barrett wants all costs incurred by WE Energies to be borne by all rate payers in the region.  The Public Service Commission is currently considering whether the Mayor is right - or whether the cost of Tom's Trolley Folly should be paid for by City of Milwaukee.

If Barrett is unable to dump the cost of this project on all Milwaukee area residents, it becomes a lot more problematic.  I mean, try explaining to residents of the Northwest Side that they've got to come up with tens of millions of dollars because their Mayor wants to build a downtown street car.

The question ultimately comes down to an interpretation of a relatively obscure Wisconsin statute.  

Anyway, Kooyenga's legislation is designed to "clarify Wisconsin statutes regarding the cost incurred by utilities when forced to comply with streetcar projects".

I haven't seen the proposed statute but let me translate: If Tom Barrett wants to move utility lines to put a streetcar in Milwaukee, the City of Milwaukee (meaning City of Milwaukee taxpayers) will have to pay the tab.

That sight you see is residents from all over Milwaukee storming City Hall with pitchforks and torches. That smell is tar to go with feathers.

In other words, I predict it won't be a pretty sight politically when people find out that Barrett isn't really spending other people's money.

Dale Kooyenga, potential trolley killer.  Who would have thought?

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