Milwaukee Continues Effort to Force Ratepayers Outside of Milwaukee to Pay for Street Car

October 30, 2013

[Milwaukee, Wisc…] Even after an amendment was added to the state budget to ensure Milwaukee would have to pay to move utilities if it wanted to build a multi-million dollar streetcar, the city is continuing its fight to force ratepayers from all across the state to pay for the costs associated with hyper-parochial project.

“The City is determined to find a way to force the affected utilities and their ratepayers and customers to pay the relocation costs associated with the Streetcar Project,” reads a new petition prepared by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) on behalf of Brett Healy.

The petition was filed with the Public Service Commission (PSC) on Wednesday to argue that the state has the authority to prohibit Milwaukee from raising utility costs to pay for a streetcar.

Back in 2011, the city of Milwaukee believed it could force utility companies and ultimately their customers to cover the costs of moving utility lines that were in the way of the streetcar project.

MacIver Institute President Brett Healy, acting as a WE Energies customer, objected to the City’s plan and asked the Public Service Commission for a declaratory judgment that the City of Milwaukee is responsible for paying for these costs, not people living outside the city of Milwaukee. This relocation work could cost as much as $70 million dollars.

“The utility rate payers of Southeastern Wisconsin deserve to know whether or not they will be on the hook for costs associated with the construction of a two-mile train that serves a tiny fraction of citizens, businesses and tourists in a tiny fraction of the city of Milwaukee,” Healy said.

In the 2013-2015 state budget, Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) passed an amendment prohibiting the city from passing on this cost to utility customers.

With the new law in place, WILL is asking that PSC to strike down Milwaukee’s request to continue with its plan to charge ratepayers for the utility changes.

Milwaukee, however, now claims that the Commission does not have the authority to judge the appropriateness of these costs even though in an earlier filing, it agreed that the Commission “had the authority under Wis. Stat. ยงยง 182.017 and 196.58 to determine the reasonableness of municipal regulations that impose costs on utilities using the public right of way.”

Milwaukee also believes the Commission cannot make a final decision without affording it a fair opportunity for a hearing. WILL says in the petition that because there is no dispute as to any material fact, Wisconsin law does not require a hearing and there has been ample time for the city to present its case to PSC. WILL is asking the PSC to make a final decision immediately.

The full petition can be seen here.