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Lobbying for mass transit takes place at state capitol

MADISON - Local officials, environmentalists, and business-and-labor leaders urged state lawmakers yesterday to approve new money for mass transit.

They testified at a public hearing on the proposed creations of regional transit authorities. They would let the Milwaukee, Fox Valley, and La Crosse areas create governing bodies that would levy their own half-percent sales taxes for buses and trains.

No one testified against the proposals before the Assembly Transportation Committee. But Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker issued a statement against raising taxes. The biggest project to be funded would be a commuter rail line from Kenosha to Milwaukee - where there's been a major controversy over how to pay for it.

Separate plans by Governor Jim Doyle and Democratic lawmakers would create a half-percent sales tax to boost revenue Milwaukee County's struggling bus system. But Doyle wants to allow a sizable rental car tax hike for the rail line, plus increases in hotel and property taxes - while lawmakers would have the state pay the cost. Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna says his region is just fighting to preserve what it has. He says the Fox Valley's population growth will result in a loss of federal transit funding after this year's Census. La Crosse officials asked for the okay to levy a sales tax to improve its bus service.