PSC Votes to Strike Down Ordinance Shifting Milwaukee Streetcar Costs to Utilities and Ratepayers

 In Case Updates, Streetcar Challenge

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (“PSC”) today voted 2-1 to invalidate a Milwaukee decision to require several utilities and their ratepayers to foot the costs – estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars – of modifying and relocating utility lines in order to accommodate the proposed 2.1-mile Milwaukee streetcar.  Under this ruling, if Milwaukee wants to continue with its plans to build a streetcar, it will have to pay those costs itself.

On behalf of Brett Healy, a WE Energies customer living in the Village of Summit, and 35 other utility ratepayers, WILL filed a petition with the PSC two and a half years ago, seeking to prevent Milwaukee from shifting the costs of its project onto utility ratepayers across southeastern Wisconsin.  Those ratepayers have no political recourse, no say in what Milwaukee government does, and therefore had no voice in the decision to essentially tax them for a Milwaukee project.  The affected utilities quickly joined our action, supporting our position that Milwaukee cannot force utilities and their ratepayers to foot the bill for the streetcar.

Spurred by our actions, the state legislature passed a law making such cost-shifting by municipalities for “urban transit” projects automatically “unreasonable” and therefore illegal.  In September of 2013, WILL and the utilities asked the PSC to issue a final ruling declaring the Milwaukee ordinance and resolution at issue void, leading to today’s decision.

“Thanks to our bringing this issue to light, people outside of Milwaukee won’t see their utility bills raised to pay for Milwaukee’s streetcar,” said Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel of WILL.  “This was a victory for fiscally prudent and responsible government.  Milwaukee will now have to decide if it’s worth spending its own money to bring back a mode of transportation the city itself abandoned 60 years ago.”

The PSC’s decision granting our motion was made orally at an open meeting today.  Each of the three commissioners stated his or her position, and then voted on a motion to issue a ruling in our favor.  Only Commissioner Callisto disagreed, and he merely said that the PSC shouldn’t rule on the case, but that it should be decided by a court.  A written decision will be forthcoming.  An audio recording of the meeting will be available on the PSC’s website until Midnight tonight.

“It is a victory for common sense,” said Healy.  “It is only common sense that utility ratepayers throughout southeast Wisconsin should not be forced by Mayor Barrett to pay for the streetcar project, and I’m thankful that the PSC agrees with me.”

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