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Wausau seeks Legislative approval for 1/10th% sales tax for transit

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) --  Wausau city officials are looking for Legislative approval to create a new sales tax to fund Metro Ride buses and paratransit services. The City Council approved the 1/10th of a percent tax proposal, but they cannot enact it without authorization from the State Legislature.

Metro Ride Director Greg Seubert is encouraged by the Council’s vote. He says with state and federal funding cuts, its important to send a message to Legislature that transit operations around the state are struggling, and Wausau has a possible solution.

Seubert says Metro Ride is largely funded by outside sources, state and federal, and cuts over recent years plus restrictions on raising revenue have made it challenging to maintain existing levels of service. “Given the strict levy limits imposed by the State of Wisconsin, we have no way locally to react when we see declines in state or federal revenue. As of late, state revenue was cut by ten percent. A local revenue source like this would allow us to react to those sorts of reductions in those outside funding sources.”

The Director says if the Legislature allows Wausau’s proposed local sales tax for transit operations, it would help them compensate for the recent ten percent cut in state transit funding. “This would be something that the Legislature would have to enable, give us the authority to have this discussion locally, and then locals would have to decide is this something they want to take on. So, at this point, this is merely a proposal to the Legislature.”

Regional Transit Authorities, or RTA’s, were considered and supported by city officials, but the state did away with RTA’s and their taxing authority. “In the Wausau area, the City Council has discussed various RTA proposals and passed resolutions favoring them, but this is the first kind of groundswell among policy makers to look for an alternative local funding source, and I think that’s very encouraging.”

Seubert says Wausau is not alone, as transit systems around the state are all struggling to obtain necessary funding levels. “Not only with the local levy limits, but also by the fact that we are funded by these varied funding sources, and they are subject to change annually, locally we’re having to deal with those outcomes and it has been very difficult for many transit systems.”

Senator Jerry Petrowski is on the Senate Transportation Committee. He told WSAU he just became aware of the City Council’s proposal, but hasn’t seen the resolution language and doesn’t know yet if he can support it, or if it would get support in the Transportation Committee or the full Legislature. Petrowski anticipates receiving Wausau’s resolution by the end of the week.

Seubert says it’s unclear how much revenue would be generated by the 1/10th of a percent sales tax. He says it’s also unknown if the other municipalities served by Metro Ride like Weston, Schofield, and Rothschild would consider a similar sales tax if authorized by the Legislature.

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