The Common Council will vote on the Milwaukee streetcar in January.
The Common Council will vote on the Milwaukee streetcar in January.

Cincinnati's familiar streetcar saga

As the legal slog to develop a new streetcar system in Downtown Milwaukee continues to play out in court, in City Hall and at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, proponents and opponents alike would do well to keep an eye on Cincinnati.

"More than any project in decades, the streetcar kerfuffle has fueled unending drama and controversy: a symbol of progress for proponents and of profligate spending for detractors."

That quote did not come from Milwaukee, although it would certainly apply. It came from a blog written by Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld earlier this year. Sittenfeld was referring a seven-year debate over a proposed $133 million streetcar system in downtown Cincinnati.

I’ll let Sittenfeld take the Cincinnati story from there…

"The saga began when the mayor and city council set the 3.6-mile project in motion, only to have a right-wing anti-tax group gather signatures for a ballot measure to stop the streetcar from being built.

"Voters rejected the measure; the streetcar survived. Next, then-newly elected Gov. John Kasich yanked $52 million of previously committed state funding from the project, and significantly altered the streetcar's route and viability.

"The following year found the same anti-tax group putting yet another measure on the ballot to halt the streetcar – only to have citizens again vote, albeit by a narrow margin, for the project to go forward. The impasse continued ... and continued ... and continued. Then, in November of 2013, a new mayor was elected in a campaign centered around cancelling the streetcar."

However, at that point, construction of the streetcar system was well underway.

"The final fate of the project came to a head just before Christmas of 2013, facing a do-or-die funding deadline from the federal government. In soap opera-like fashion, only hours before the deadline, the project survived with just enough votes to overcome a mayoral veto," Sittenfeld said.

"Three Council members – myself …

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Reed Hall is awaiting a reappointment from Gov. Scott Walker.
Reed Hall is awaiting a reappointment from Gov. Scott Walker.

Hall brings stability to WEDC

If asked to return for another term as secretary and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., Reed Hall says he would be honored to serve again.

Like other cabinet members, Hall is awaiting an announcement soon about Gov. Scott Walker’s cabinet appointments for his second term. Walker, a Republican, was re-elected on Nov. 4, defeating Democratic challenger Mary Burke.

"I understand that protocol is that the Governor has to reappoint us to our positions. If asked, I intend to continue to serve but I do need to be mindful of protocol. In response to your question, no I have not heard if the governor wishes me to stay on," Hall said.

Laurel Patrick, Walker’s press secretary, said in an e-mail, "Any announcement about changes to Governor Walker’s cabinet agency teams will be made when we have details to share."

Hall, who had retired as the executive director of the Marshfield Clinic in 2010, was brought in by Walker to stabilize the agency that was in turmoil as Walker transformed it from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce to the WEDC.

The transition was not without drama or turmoil.

Paula Jadin, Walker’s original commerce secretary, resigned in September of 2012 to become the new president of Thrive, which seeks to improve the economy of the Madison era.

The agency was often criticized for questionable loans and grants to private businesses and for not holding the recipients of that state aid accountable for jobs they had promised to create.

Under the leadership of Hall and his public information manager, former journalist Mark Maley, the WEDC has become far more transparent about how it operates and the status of its economic development initiatives. The information is available to the public at www.inwisconsin.com. In addition to full disclosure of its operations plan for fiscal 2015, the agency published its "Annual Report on Economic Development." The WEDC’s board meetings are open and accessible to the public. The web …

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