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Milwaukee County Moves to Regulate Taxicabs

City’s permitting system is unconstitutional

Oct. 2, 2013
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The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted 14-4 to begin working to take over the city’s taxicab regulations, which created a taxicab monopoly and were declared unconstitutional by a judge earlier this year.

Under the proposal authored by Supervisor John Weishan and Supervisor Russell Stamper, the county executive would form a negotiating team that would meet with city staffers, come up with a draft permitting system, and send it back to the board for an up-or-down vote.

But Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele doesn’t seem to want to take over the city’s taxicab responsibilities.

In an email sent to the Shepherd, Abele spokesman Brendan Conway wrote that while Abele supports “the broad goal of the supervisors who drafted it,” he is concerned about the timeline for negotiations and questions whether the county could legally take on this role without a change in state statute.

Another Abele aide, Raisa Koltun, sent the supervisors an email asking them to oppose the resolution last week. Instead, the board moved ahead with a veto-proof 14-4 majority in support of the negotiations.


Relying on Abele to Get It Done

Because of the limitations placed on the board by the Abele-backed Act 14, the supervisors cannot negotiate a contract and must rely on the county executive for drafting this agreement and the permitting system.

According to the resolution, the three-person county negotiating team would by led by an appointee of Abele and rounded out by appointees of County Comptroller Scott Manske and Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic.

During a committee hearing on Sept. 11, Weishan argued that Judge Jane Carroll’s order that the city adopt a new, constitutional permitting system gives the county a short window of opportunity in which it can develop taxicab regulations that will improve mobility around the entire county and reduce fares.

Weishan said county government would benefit from a more-competitive taxicab market, since it subsidizes roughly 5,000 Paratransit taxicab rides per month.

Although the board can no longer negotiate contracts it did request that any county-generated taxicab permits be non-transferable, meaning that permit holders would not be able to sell their permit to another taxicab owner or driver. Judge Carroll declared the city’s transferable permitting system unconstitutional in April because it created a monopoly system and sky-high $150,000 permits.

About half of the city’s taxicab permits are owned by companies run by the Sanfelippo family and are valued at about $20 million. State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis) worked with Abele and conservative members of the business community and Legislature to reduce the county board’s responsibilities under Act 14.

Now, if the board’s veto-proof majority holds, Abele must either act on the board’s wishes and create a strongly competitive taxicab permitting system that weakens the Sanfelippo family’s monopoly or develop a weak system that the board will likely reject.

“As to his relationship with Joe Sanfellipo, [Abele] has always believed he’s better able to advocate for citizens of the county when he has good working relationships with as many people he can work with to get there as possible,” Abele spokesman Conway wrote. “While he is far closer to [Mayor Tom] Barrett, he is friendly with Joe and many legislators on both sides of the aisle.”


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