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The Journal Sentinel reports today on a measure relating to the Milwaukee Streetcar Project that was passed by the Joint Finance Committee and which will be included in the upcoming State budget. As reported, the measure would require the City of Milwaukee – or any other municipality building a streetcar – to pay the costs of extensive and expensive utility relocations associated with the construction of the Streetcar. These costs have been estimated at more than $55 million. The City’s budget for the Streetcar project assumed that the affected utilities would bear all of these costs and pass them along to their ratepayers, many of whom are not City residents. The budget measure would preclude the City from passing the relocation costs on to the utilities.
The question of who should bear the $55 million in relocation costs was raised by WILL over a year ago in a petition filed by Brett Healy and numerous other Wisconsin utility ratepayers before the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. The petitioners there asserted that in light of the nature of the Streetcar project it would be unlawful for the City to impose the relocation costs on Wisconsin utilities and their ratepayers. It is their view that as a matter of Wisconsin law and public policy, the costs of projects of this kind should be borne by those who may stand to benefit by them, in this case Milwaukee taxpayers. That appears to be the gist of the prosed budget measure, and WILL and its clients are pleased that the Legislature is prepared to take up this important question.