By DINESH RAMDE
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Labor leaders and politicians rallied Monday in support of a high-speed rail project, mocking Republican Gov.-elect Scott Walker’s efforts to scuttle the deal by refusing the $810 million in federal stimulus money.
Activists gathered at the Milwaukee plant of train maker Talgo Inc. and called on Walker to drop his opposition of the project. The area needs the jobs, they said, and about a dozen speakers argued that an improved train system would stimulate local commerce and help the environment.
Phil Neuenfeldt, the president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO labor group, said the goal was to remind Walker that the project would put people to work at livable wages.
“The main point is, this area as well as the whole state needs jobs,” he said. “If the rail project doesn’t go forward those jobs will go elsewhere. We can’t afford to see that happen.”
The high-speed rail line, which would carry passengers between Madison and Milwaukee, was expected to create about 125 jobs at Talgo, along with hundreds of other ancillary positions. Talgo officials have said they won’t stay in Wisconsin beyond 2012 if the state bails on its commitment to the project.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has already extended the red carpet to Talgo, saying his administration would do whatever it could to lure the train maker to his state. Officials in Illinois and New York have also said they’d gladly accept whatever federal money is turned down by Wisconsin and other states.
Those statements led the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to put up a billboard on the freeway near Walker’s Milwaukee-area home mocking him for his opposition.
The billboard has a picture of the governor-elect along with the lines, “Dear Scott Walker, Thanks for the money & jobs! Love, Illinois.”
Mike Tate, the state party’s chairman, said he hoped Walker will see the billboard on his drives home from Madison.
“Scott Walker claimed he would create jobs but apparently he wants to start his administration by killing Wisconsin jobs,” Tate said.
Walker was in San Diego on Monday for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. His spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment, although Walker’s office did release a letter from three unions arguing that the federal money earmarked for the high-speed rail would be better spent on fixing crumbling infrastructure.
Walker has said he opposes the project because the state could get stuck paying the maintenance costs. He wants to use the money for other purposes or give it back.
“Gov.-elect Scott Walker remains focused on fixing Wisconsin’s existing infrastructure, namely our state’s crumbling roads and bridges,” spokesman John Hiller said in a statement.
Walker received plenty of support from road builders during the recent gubernatorial race, according to a report released Monday by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association gave $85,000 to Walker, compared to $11,250 to his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Walker’s opposition didn’t sit well with the 150 to 200 people who attended the Milwaukee rally. The Rev. Ken Wheeler of the nearby Cross Lutheran Church said the project would bring jobs to an economically depressed part of the city and give hope to the many young black men looking for work.
“Don’t just do what is expedient. Do what is right. Do what is just,” he said. “Invest your moral and political chips, for once Mr. Walker, on the side of the workers, on the side of the poor.”
A mass crowd of 200 train supporters, guess we can call off te riot police. I am surprised community organizers were able to round up this many people.
Its official this train thing has lost its steam.
The Scott Walker campaign on March 7, 2010 said “When Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett advocate spending $810 million in federal stimulus money on a high-speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison, they don’t talk about all the hidden costs to Wisconsin taxpayers to operate and maintain the line once it’s built. Maybe that’s because nobody really knows how much it will cost.”
That was one of Scott Walker’s scare tactics, because nothing was ever “hidden”.
Gov. Tommy Thompson first proposed it in 1996 and Wisconsin voters in 1992 approved a constitutional amendment to allow the state to invest in railroads as well as roads, airports and harbors. Numerous studies have been published; many public forums and hearings have been held, and the WisDOT website provides information about the Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison grant application, which itself is part of the state’s Connections 2030 long range transportation plan, developed with a significant amount of public input.
And then Scott Walker said “Accepting this money means obligating Wisconsin taxpayers to spend millions more every year. They say Wisconsin should grab the money before another state gets it and just hope everything will work out. That is just the kind of irresponsible spending that will lead to even bigger state budget deficits and higher taxes down the road.”
The $8 billion for the *entire* High Speed Rail program in the 2009 Recovery Act is minuscule compared to the billions spent on highways over the past 75 years. Wisconsin also qualified for over $500 million in highway funding from the same stimulus program. Did anyone ever hear the Walker campaign suggest also sending this money back to Washington, or accept no federal funding for any program, the logical extension of that fallacious and misleading argument?
The state’s passenger rail program is a very small part of the annual transportation budget, and the additional $7.5 million per year that the Milwaukee-Madison line will require in ongoing support is less than two tenths of 1% of the state’s $3.4 billion annual transportation budget. (Interestingly, Scott Walker has lately claimed the cost will be $10 million annually.)
But whatever Scott Walker has ever said is drowned out by what he hasn’t said, which is that this line is only the initial short start to the eventual St. Louis-Chicago-Milwaukee-Twin Cities HSR Line, and this line will be built, even if it completely bypasses Wisconsin running from Chicago west to Iowa and then north to St. Paul-Minneapolis. And Wisconsin Governor “Concrete Scott” Walker can explain how Wisconsin taxpayers again wound up paying for trains for other states to use. As usual.
The difference between utilizing the $500 million in highway funds is that the roads are a necessity. In rural areas trains serve a relative few, thus are not necessary.
$8 billion does not buy an “entire” highspeed rail system. That is less than 1/4th the proposed cost to go from San Francisco to LA alone.
Wisconsin tax payers will pay our share of the Federal Stimulous regardless. What we will not have to pay is the yearly maintenance for something few use.
It would become much like the Hoan Bridge, an asset no one really wants to take care of, but it’s there so…$$$$.
“The difference between utilizing the $500 million in highway funds is that the roads are a necessity.”
All these bypasses that don’t even save tiem are not a necessity. If you want to protest a waste of money, you should start there.
Just wanted to let you know that Walker won the election, but hey feel free to waste bandwidth, I doubt anyone is listening.
The term Concrete Walker doesnt do much here considering your posting in an area frequented by midwestern construction personel not the progressive elite.
I have no problem with you making a living even if its blogging as an advocate of high speed rail, but when in Rome at least play the part.
“your posting in an area frequented by midwestern construction personel not the progressive elite.”
Those are not necessarily mutually exclusive. 😉