August 31, 2010 2:31 PM
There's a movement afoot by opponents of commuter rail to get a question on the November election ballot. The question looks straightforward enough: Do you support increasing the sales tax to pay for commuter rail?
The problem is that it's not accurate. The new Regional Transit Authority has the ability to levy a half-cent sales tax to pay for all kinds of transit options that would also provide property tax relief. In fact, the RTA would probably start by taking over the Metro bus system and expanding it both within the city and out into the county. The sales tax would also give us the chance to try bus rapid transit, expand transit services for the elderly and disabled and create a network of park and ride lots. Commuter rail might also be part of the mix, but it's far from the sole focus.
So, this question, now on the ballot in some municipalities, is really just a piece of meaningless political theater designed by opponents of rail to drum up opposition in places where they know they can win.
While I wanted the RTA board to move forward with a referendum in the full RTA area (central Dane County) this November, that now appears very unlikely. I'm okay with that, but now we should look toward next spring. The ballot question should be a fair one, fully and accurately describing what the sales tax would pay for, and it should give every voter in the RTA jurisdiction a chance to voice their opinion. And if we can't get that done this fall, then let's do it just as soon as possible so that we can start getting the benefits of an expanded, modern transit system.