ACLU accuses state lawmakers of discrimination after voting to cut funding for Milwaukee transit


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The state legislature’s budget committee voted to cut transit funding in Milwaukee and Madison by 50% over the next two years.

The transport plan was approved on June 8, 11-4, according to party lines, with all Republicans voting for and all Democrats voting against.

During the hearing, Republicans said they were cutting state funding for transit programs in the state’s two largest cities because they were receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from federal aid for coronavirus relief.

While funding for public transportation has been cut, the plan still funds the controversial $ 1.1 billion expansion of Interstate-94 in Milwaukee.

The 3-mile I-94 extension was suspended in April, so that public comment could be gathered by the state Department of Transportation following refusal by local politicians, environmentalists and public officials. community groups. A public comment period has not yet started.

Cassie Steiner, senior campaign coordinator at Sierra Club Wisconsin, said the joint finance committee’s decision to fund the expansion project before public input was solicited was irresponsible.

“This project as currently proposed will not solve congestion or safety issues, and it will have a negative impact on air quality, surrounding neighborhoods and the climate,” Steiner said in a written statement. . “Adding insult to injury, the committee also made drastic cuts to Madison and Milwaukee transit funding. Public transport is a lifeline for those who don’t want to drive, can’t drive, and can’t afford a car.

Karyn Rotker, senior lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, called the cuts to public transportation discriminatory.

“In Wisconsin, and particularly in urban areas like Milwaukee, people of color and people with disabilities disproportionately depend on public transportation to get to work, school, stores and hospitals. . are not only wrong but discriminatory, ”Rotker said in a written statement.

The I-94 project is expected to start in 2022.

Milwaukee County Director David Crowley addressed the cuts on June 10 during the bi-weekly COVID-19 update, saying the loss of funds for public transit is devastating as bus routes for people who depend on them to get to their work will have to be cut.

He said over the next two years, the budget committee’s decision would result in a loss of $ 40 million for the county – on top of an annual budget deficit of $ 110-150 million the county will face. over the next six years.

“Once the federal dollars are used up, we still have long-term fiscal sustainability issues due to the fact that we still have stagnant public funding and controls on local revenues,” Crowley said. “The more cuts we see, the more instability we create and could mean we will have to make more difficult decisions down the line.”

Despite the setback, there was a silver lining for public transportation in Milwaukee this week. After years of planning, Milwaukee County introduced the Bus Rapid Transit, a 9 mile route from downtown Milwaukee to the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa.

The system will use battery-powered electric buses and will include 33 stations. The service is scheduled to begin in fall 2022. Crowley said Bus Rapid Transit is an equity investment.

“This will allow more connections between major employment, education and recreation destinations across the county,” Crowley said. “This will help us provide more efficient and better services to people who do not have a vehicle or to families who only have one vehicle.

Access to public transportation is also something young professionals want to see in Milwaukee.

The City’s Millennium Task Force, which was established in 2019 to end the city’s brain drain, presented a report to the Milwaukee Common Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee. They found that quality transportation is one of the top three criteria when choosing where to live for 66% of millennials, and 54% of millennials would consider moving to another city if they had transportation options. more and better.

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