High-speed rail bill prompts bigger question
There are certain words or phrases I use so often in this line of work that makes it easy to lose perspective on their meanings.
For the purposes of this blog, I’ll cite “jobs” and “good intentions” as an example.
The subject of jobs has arguably become the preeminent story subject or subtext for at least the last year and a half. The construction industry continues to battle high unemployment rates as workloads slowly make their way back to 2006 or 2007 averages. And I bet there are people out there who wonder if they’ll ever return to those numbers.
So it’s not at all rare to have some union official or contractors association representative telling me about their members who are looking for work or on the brink of closing shop. It instills in them a fight to get whatever jobs are available.
And with a federal stimulus grant of $810 million attached, there’s no doubting that the high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison would likely provide a nice boost in work, although a lot of people are still unclear on those exact numbers as well.
So when I spoke with Terry McGowan, IUOE Local 139’s business manager, about the bill announced Tuesday that would curb spending on the line, I wasn’t surprised that he bristled.
State Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, argues the state is ill-equipped to handle the post-construction costs of operating high-speed rail and the debate needs to happen on the Senate and Assembly floors.
Hypothetically speaking, if the bill passed and the Senate and Assembly both agreed Wisconsin should axe the project, the $810 million would likely go to some other high-speed rail project elsewhere in the country. For those looking for job opportunities here, it would be a tough blow.
But the issue really isn’t about a rail line covering the roughly 80 miles between two Wisconsin cities. It’s about letting financing for transportation projects get to a point where people have to argue about jobs now versus paying for them later.
So many bills are introduced with good intentions (there it is) and you cannot fault Davis for wanting to look out for taxpayers. The problem is even if the train were to disappear, the $30 million hole in the transportation budget would not.
And nobody’s introduced the well-intended bill to plug that hole yet.
Paul Snyder is a well-intended staff writer with The Daily Reporter who also had good intentions for this blog.