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State Senate GOP Divided On Bill To Allow Regional Transit Authority In Fox Valley

Passage Into Law Seems Highly Unlikely

A Milwaukee county bus
Photo: (vincent desjardins) (CC-BY)

The state Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a bill that would authorize a regional transit authority in the Fox Cities region, even though the plan has little chance of becoming law.

The plan would let cities in the Fox Valley hold referenda to ask voters for the power to levy a half-cent sales tax to pay for a regional bus system. Republican state Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, is sponsoring the plan, but Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says his caucus is divided. Fitzgerald won’t even say how he plans to vote.

“I talked to Sen. Ellis about it a couple of times. I guess I haven’t really confirmed with him how I’m going to vote on the bill,” Fitzgerald said.

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Ellis is getting a vote because he’s the Senate president, regional transit is a big issue in his district, and he faces a serious reelection challenge this November from Democratic state Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, who — by the way — is sponsoring the RTA bill in the Assembly. Should this bill ever make it to the Assembly, would it pass there? Assembly Speaker Robin Vos leaves little doubt.

“No, I don’t support RTAs. I think that answering transportation funding is not going to be by creating new sales taxes all around Wisconsin,” Vos said.

Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna, a staunch RTA supporter, said he’s aware of the plan’s chances with Vos, and other southeast Wisconsin Republicans.

“You can’t stop trying. You have to keep up,” Hanna said. “And so we’ll get a vote in the Senate. Hopefully it will be a positive vote. We’ll see what happens in the Assembly. And if the session ends with that as the result, we’re in a better spot to pick it up again in the new session of the Legislature starting next year.”

Hanna says given how much Fox Valley residents and businesses want a better bus system, he’s confident they’d support an RTA referendum if they get the chance to vote.