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Closed-door rail deal might not shut down Walker’s promise

By Joe Lanane

The ballots haven’t even begun to be counted and one of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s key campaign points is already in jeopardy.

News (conveniently) broke on Election Day-eve that Gov. Jim Doyle and the federal government finalized a deal that allows the state to spend all $810 million dedicated for the proposed Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail line project.

Both Walker and his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, have denounced the closed-door deal. But it may be Walker, the presumed frontrunner, who has the most to lose from this decision.

Walker’s frustrations to this announcement are warranted. After all, he has already said Doyle needs to slow down because he would “stop the train.”

If elected, Walker won’t take over office until January. Until then, Doyle will attempt to allocate as much of the rail money as possible. That will make it difficult for Walker to return the federal money, but it does not mean he will break his campaign promise.

It now seems certain Walker can no longer divert money for other state transportation projects. And, depending on how much money Doyle dishes out before exiting office, Walker will struggle to rationalize repaying the federal government for money already spent.

On the other hand, Walker can still prevent the project from progressing further. Any construction could be delayed indefinitely, preventing the train from ever operating during his tenure. That would relieve Wisconsin from paying at least $7 million in annual maintenance.

Walker’s will to stop the rail project may help get him elected, and he may do just that despite Tuesday’s roadblock.

Joe Lanane, who headed off to vote after writing this blog, is a staff writer at The Daily Reporter.

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