An RTA, which allows for regional governance on transit issues, could pave the way for a commuter rail line.

Some Dane County Board members are pushing to hold a countywide referendum this November asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to pay for commuter rail.

The proposal, which board Chairman Scott McDonell said will not be able to get enough support to move forward, comes after County Clerk Bob Ohlsen said his office won’t be ready to hold a Regional Transit Authority referendum this fall.

Madison and county officials have long promised to hold an advisory referendum before raising taxes in the Regional Transit Authority area to pay for local transit. But holding a referendum is not easy because any RTA referendum would only appear on ballots within the RTA area, which includes seven cities (except a small part of Fitchburg), five villages, four entire towns and parts of 11 other towns.

That means the state’s Government Accountability Board has to create a new voting district, and after that the county clerk’s office must compile the names of eligible voters and prepare additional ballots, while making regular election preparations.

“From what I’m hearing from the clerk’s office it would be very difficult if not impossible to have the voter file ready by the fall election,” RTA board Chairman Dick Wagner said.

Supervisor Bill Clausius of Sun Prairie, one of the board members proposing a county referendum, said that people are concerned about the ongoing costs of a proposed commuter rail system and that he would vote against the idea.

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“There’s an expectation about having this (referendum) this year,” Clausius said. “What we’re saying is the simple solution is to have a countywide referendum.”

The proposed advisory referendum would ask voters: “Shall commuter rail from Middleton to the town of Burke be funded by a half-cent increase in the sales tax?”

McDonell, however, said it makes no sense to have people who won’t be taxed under the proposal get a vote.

“There’s no representation without taxation,” McDonell said. “If you’re not being taxed, why do you need to vote?”

A similar proposal introduced last year died in committee in February when the recently created RTA board committed to holding a referendum before raising a sales tax to fund local transit.


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