Forty-two Dane County municipalities will vote Nov. 2 on a referendum that asks whether they would support a half-cent sales tax to pay for commuter rail.
The question is misleading, which explains why it isn’t on the ballot in municipalities with 60 percent of the county’s population, but we nevertheless urge people to vote “yes” to support the start of public rail transportation for the county.
It’s unfortunate that this referendum represents a cynical attempt by unyielding opponents of public rail transportation who believe forcing it onto the ballot this November will result in a resounding “no” vote. The rail opponents want to send a strong message to officials who have been examining transportation alternatives for an ever-growing and increasingly congested Dane County.
The newly formed Regional Transit Authority is in the process of putting together a proposal that will not only include an embryonic commuter rail route between Middleton and Sun Prairie, but expand modern bus services to folks who live within the RTA boundaries and who have to travel to other communities for everything from jobs to schools.
The half-cent sales tax would fund all of those alternatives, not just commuter rail. The overall objective is to address the county’s transportation needs by offering economical public transportation, especially in the face of increasing gasoline prices and the adverse impact of emissions on the environment.
A binding referendum on the tax proposal will be held next year, probably in the spring election, after the RTA finishes a comprehensive plan on all aspects of public transportation. At that time, voters will be able to evaluate the complete proposal, not one purposely designed to mislead voters into believing the tax equals commuter rail, period.
The best way to address commuter rail opponents’ cynical ploy is by voting “yes” on Nov. 2.
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