November 8, 2007
“I don’t think we are going to see anything regional without the support of the business community.”
That was the message from Mayor Dave Cieslewicz on commuter rail and transportation after Downtown Madison Inc.’s luncheon Wednesday with Texas State Sen. Kirk Watson.
Watson, who was mayor of Austin from 1997 to 2001 and is currently chairman of its Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, told of how a referendum on commuter rail failed when he was mayor, but succeeded in 2005. And now Austin’s rail system is set to open next year.
Along those lines, Cieslewicz and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk are negotiating with the Legislature to get a Regional Transportation Authority authorized. If approved by the state, the plan would fund rail and other transportation improvements with a countywide 0.5 percent sales tax increase and would go before voters in a referendum.
In how that plays out, Cieslewicz stressed the importance of the business community.
“I’d like to see the business community get behind the Regional Transportation Authority and commuter rail system that the county executive and I have proposed,” he said.
But Cieslewicz recently has been taking a beating from some in the business community. His choice for the city’s first economic and community development director collapsed under pressure from those who wanted the position to be filled with someone with direct business development experience.
When asked how this conflict might interfere with getting the business community behind regional transportation, Cieslewicz brushed off the conflicts of the past few months. The disputes led Bill Clingan, a manager for the state Department of Workforce Development and a former Madison School Board member, to withdraw his nomination for the new post.
“There is no problem,” he said. “We just disagreed on one appointment and that has been resolved.”
But Mark Bugher, University Research Park director and incoming Chamber of Commerce president, indicated that there still may be bridges to mend.
“The mayor must demonstrate to the business community that he is serious about supporting economic development,” said Bugher, who resigned from the Economic Development Commission over Clingan’s nomination.
“The bottom line is to promote structural economic development,” Burger said.
Watson presented an idea of how rail fits in with business and economic development.
Watson said the construction of regional transportation improvements, especially commuter rail, always disrupted people’s lives and was expensive. But he argued it could be done if politicians could make the public see it as an economic development opportunity.
“Ultimately transportation is one of the biggest assets of a regional economy that will compete in the global economy,” Watson said.