Marquette Warrior: Cramping the Style of the Street Car

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cramping the Style of the Street Car

One of the fiascoes of Milwaukee City government in recent history is a plan to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money to build a streetcar line that connects the trendy, affluent east side (where most people have cars, and where bus service is good) to the train station on St. Paul Street.

It will do no good for people who live on the suburbs. It will do no good for black people who live on the city’s North Side. It will do no good for people who live on the South Side. It will do no good for people who live in the Marquette area. It quite clearly reflects, not sober policy analysis, but rather the fetish of certain elites with mass, government planned and run transportation.

The costs of relocating utility lines to make way for the streetcar will be massive, and the City of Milwaukee has been demanding that ratepayers throughout the entire service areas of the affected utilities (the vast majority of whom will get no benefit at all from the project) should be forced to pay these costs.

Now enter the The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, which today urged at a public hearing of the Public Service Commission that utilities not be forced to foist on ratepayers the entire relocation costs. According to the Institute:
September 27, 2012, Milwaukee, WI - Brett Healy and his fellow utility ratepayers, represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (“WILL”), scored a significant victory in today’s proceedings before the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. The City of Milwaukee had argued that the construction of its 2.1 mile downtown streetcar project is a proper exercise of its police power to promote the public safety and welfare, and therefore it has the legal right to force the utilities that will be affected by the project (and their ratepayers) to absorb all of the costs for the relocation or reconstruction of their facilities. Those costs have been estimated at more than $50 million. The City, which expects to essentially pay for the $65 million project with federal funds, has no room in its project budget to pay even one dollar of utility relocation costs.

The Commission declined to rule today that the construction of the streetcar project is a proper exercise of the City’s police power, setting that issue for a later hearing. More importantly, however, the Commission held that even if the streetcar project is a proper exercise of the City’s power, the City cannot impose all of the relocation costs on the utilities that will be affected. Only those costs that the Commission finds to be “reasonable” can be shifted to the utilities. The Chairman of the Commission particularly noted that the Commission’s duty is to protect Wisconsin’s utility ratepayers, and expressed serious reservations that it would be appropriate for the City to pass on millions of dollars in costs to Southeastern Wisconsin utility ratepayers who will receive no benefit from the City’s project. The Commission rejected the City’s contention that it had no jurisdiction to decide the cost issue, and said that it would hold a hearing to determine what costs it would permit the City to pass on to the utilities and their ratepayers.

Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel of WILL, said “this is a clear victory for our clients and for the concept of government accountability. The Public Service Commission has done what we asked it to do, and will take a close look at the City’s decision to impose millions of dollars in costs on ratepayers who do not live in the City. We are confident that the Commission will decide that, if the City wants to move forward with the streetcar project, the City’s taxpayers should pay for it.”

Brett Healy, who originally brought the matter before the Commission, said “it’s clear that the City has no room in its budget for paying any of the utility costs and equally clear that the Commission will not let the City get away with shifting all, or even most, of those costs to utility customers. It’s time for the City to let its taxpayers know that the streetcar project cannot be financed with “free” federal dollars, and that it will likely cost them in substantially increased property taxes at the end of the day.”
This mania for mass transit among liberal elites, as we have noted before, reflects the resentment of these elites at the uppity nature of ordinary Americans. They want to live where they want to live. They want to drive their cars where they want to. They don’t want to have to conform their lifestyles to what urban planners think is best.

And the liberal elites hate that hugely.

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