A state lawmaker is calling on Gov. Jim Doyle to stop the state’s planning for the Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail line.
State Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, said Friday that GOP gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker and Mark Neumann committed to stopping work on the project if they are elected in November, and Wisconsin should pull the plug on the project now.
“It’s a misplaced priority,” Davis said of high-speed rail. “There are other ways to accomplish transit. Let’s talk about details and things like buses that can get people to places as quickly and inexpensively as possible.”
The federal government earlier this year awarded $823 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money for improvements to make high-speed rail available between Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison, and to determine a route from Wisconsin to the Twin Cities.
Davis, who is running for lieutenant governor and made his request in a letter to Doyle, said if elected he will immediately request sending back the money.
“We should absolutely say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,'” he said. “It’s taxpayer money that should be used to pay down the federal debt or used for other transportation needs in Wisconsin.”
Doyle’s office did not immediately return calls for comment.
However, at a high-speed rail announcement this month in Madison, Doyle said he did not understand the political motivation behind stopping work on the project. He said if Wisconsin rejects the money, another state will use it for a high-speed rail project.
It’s a good reason to forge ahead with work on the line, said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and a supporter of high-speed rail.
“If we say no to everything, Wisconsin will really be heading for the dark ages,” he said. “It’s that kind of ignorance that could put Wisconsin as an economic backwater.”
Davis said the state’s transportation budget is already operating with a $30 million deficit and building and operating a high-speed rail line will sink Wisconsin further into debt.
At a meeting Thursday of the Wisconsin Innovation Network, Paul Trombino, project manager with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said the department estimates high-speed rail will cost about $7 million a year to maintain.
The train will come at an added cost to taxpayers, Hiniker said, but it’s not worth rejecting the project.
“We always have to look to the future,” he said. “Yeah, we have a deficit. Do we stop schools because we have a deficit? Do we shut down police forces? Libraries? Attracting jobs costs money, so do we shut down the Department of Commerce? No. We invest in things that will make Wisconsin better in the future.”
The state’s transportation budget needs to be protected and bolstered before it takes on additional burdens, Davis said. He said he supports an idea backed by Walker and Neumann to divert sales tax collected on transportation-related items to the transportation budget.
But even if the transportation budget is made whole, Davis said he wants the state to fix its damaged highways and bridges before investing in a rail system he said many people oppose.
But pulling the plug on high-speed rail now, Hiniker said, would hurt Wisconsin for years.
“Someday we’ll be out of the deficit,” he said. “And when that day comes, some other place will be getting the benefits of having high-speed rail in their state.”