ON-Lion Letter

"Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has a new scheme worked out to get his fixed-rail streetcar built," begins a November post by commentator James Wigderson on the website of the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy in Madison, Wis.  Barrett is "going to increase the project's size and cost.  According to the Milwaukee Business Journal, Barrett's new streetcar plan would make the track 4.6 miles in length and the project would cost $123.9 million.  That's an increase of $59.3 million, or nearly double what was originally planned.

"The new streetcar path would take the fixed-rail system to the new Couture project on Milwaukee's lakefront and through the Third Ward," continues Wigderson.  "To pay for the increased costs of the system, Barrett would use two [Tax Incremental Finance (TIF)] districts to pay for the construction costs.  One TIF district would be new and include the Couture.  The other TIF district would be a change to an existing district on Erie St.

"The whole expansion scheme reveals a basic problem with fixed-rail systems," he writes.  "Unlike with a bus that runs on existing city streets, the new streetcar system requires new infrastructure to be built every time it changes a route.

"Using the TIF districts to subsidize the construction of the streetcar can be seen as a concession that Milwaukee is likely to lose" a lawsuit he brought against the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, which has ruled that the city would be required to pay for moving any utility lines, Wigderson concludes.  "However, using the TIF districts shows that Barrett still wants a subsidy for his streetcar from those who will not benefit from it.  Whether it's the revenue from the properties within the TIF districts or from the city as a whole, Barrett's taxpayers are paying for a ride many of them don't want to take."

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports the MacIver Institute.

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