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Congressmen: Use high-speed rail money to cut deficit

State Sen. Spencer Coggs (center) addresses high-speed rail supporters during a rally Monday at the Talgo site in Milwaukee. Politicians, labor leaders and members of the community gathered at the Talgo facility to show their support for the rail project. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

State Sen. Spencer Coggs (center) addresses high-speed rail supporters during a rally Monday at the Talgo site in Milwaukee. Politicians, labor leaders and members of the community gathered at the Talgo facility to show their support for the rail project. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

By Joe Lanane

Three Republican congressmen from Wisconsin say the state should be allowed to return the $810 million in stimulus money designated for high-speed rail to the federal government to help reduce the nations deficit.

U.S. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner of Brookfield, Paul Ryan of Janesville and Tom Petri of Fond du Lac introduced legislation Tuesday in the House of Representatives that would let states return their shares of federal high-speed rail money for deficit reduction rather than risk losing the money to other states for rail projects. So far, politicians from New York, Illinois and California have said they would take Wisconsin’s $810 million.

The bill requires any high-speed rail money returned to be used to reduce the nation’s $1.6 trillion deficit.

Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker had pledged to try to have Wisconsin’s share of the federal high-speed rail money reallocated for road and bridge projects.

“The problem with reallocating it is that could be considered earmarking, and there is a big movement here to do away with earmarks in an effort to reduce the deficit,” said Niel Wright, a spokesman for Petri.

Wendy Riemann, a spokeswoman for Sensenbrenner, said she does not think the bill offsets efforts by Walker to use the money for alternative projects in Wisconsin.

“The congressmen are doing what they need to be doing at the federal level, and Governor-elect Walker is doing what he needs to be doing at the state level,” Riemann said.

Sensenbrenner supports Walker’s efforts to stop high-speed rail in Wisconsin, but because U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood insists the state cannot reallocate the federal money, Sensenbrenner said he would rather have the money returned than spent on train service, according to a statement attributed to Sensenbrenner.

Members of Walker’s transition team did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment on Tuesday. According to an e-mail attributed to Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Walker, the incoming governor is “pleased that these three leaders understand that the train between Milwaukee and Madison is dead.”

Pat Goss, executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, said his members are interested in seeing federal money invested in Wisconsin, whether it goes toward high-speed rail or other transportation projects. Goss said it is important the Wisconsin congressmen continue fighting to get Wisconsin money even if earmarks are removed from future transportation bills.

“This just highlights the fact our federal leaders in Washington need to come up with a plan to pay for transportation infrastructure in this state and the country, and we need that soon,” Goss said.

12 comments

  1. political_incorrectness

    Here is an easy solution:

    You take it

    You give it back

    It is that cut and dry on the money side. On the transportation side

    Oil prices are climbing

    Traffic congestion gets worse and you add more congestion with more lanes

    Airport security is a pain in the ***

    So, why stay in the 20th century when we can have a better alternative?

  2. This just in!

    According to a post attributed to me, a spokesman for intelligent people, I am “pleased that all intelligent people understand the brain between Scott Walker’s ears is dead.”

  3. What, and not a word from the Teapublicans about also returning the $2 billion for the unneeded / unwanted / unasked-for extra lane on I-94 in Wisconsin that destroyed businesses, farms and homes in the process?

  4. So $800 million for rail is a waste but the Republicans are holding up a nuclear treaty with Russia in order to get $80 BILLION to modernize our nuclear arms stockpile? Are you f’ing kidding me? And we’re supposed to take these clowns seriously?

    When the conservative party starts alienating millionaire business owners with their stupidiity, it is time they re-evaluate where they stand.

  5. If the backward upstate Wisconsin people don’t want high speed rail between Chicago and Milwaukee /Madison.. fine will take it you snooze you lose… what a waste of a good opportunity for the state Wisconsin to become part of a growing network of energy-efficient passenger trains the kind the United States used to have before we went on oil drinking..binge, now it’s 60% imported.. not very good for the future of our nation.. and it’s for high-speed rail nothing else we are ready spend more than anyone else on roads and freeways. And if you’re worried about the deficit start counting the trillion Dollar war.

  6. Abe, the defense industry is their largest campaign contributor. Cut them some slack or get behind public funding of campaigns. It is the one reform that controls all others.

  7. Great work by Representative Sensenbrenner! Finally someone bringing some fiscal sanity to the process. It’s a small step but one must start somewhere.

    Ms Jeffries, what party controlled state government when the I-94 expansion moved forward? If it was such a bad idea, why did they not step up and stop it? Maybe their funding raising base (the unions) would have had their knickers in a twist.

    At least the road improvements will get utilized by the masses and will not require anywhere near the same per user subsidy that the half fast train would.

  8. This is called put up or shut up, the only way to regain fiscal resposibility is to lead by example. Wisconsin is setting the bar for the nation to follow. Saving a dollar and being thrifty is all the rage these days, you train huggers are falling behind the times.

  9. Hey Cali,

    Calling people from upstate Wisconsin “backward” is not very nice. Have you ever been to Fresno or Bakersfield?

    Anyone that has driven in the metro areas of LA or the Bay Area could see where passenger rail would be a benefit. The drive through Madison or Milwaukee is a relative joke as far as traffic is concerned.

    I would much rather see our Federal dollars go to where the need is best served.

  10. Irwin, give me a break. Businesses give 8 times the dollars (bribes) than do the unions. Think: “road builders!”

  11. Irwin, do you not understand that the leg between Milwaukee and Madison is a small part of a larger midwestern high-speed rail network? It isn’t just a commuter line. Do you understand that?

  12. Jack,

    8 of the top 15 contributers to campaigns are unions. Typically 98% of all union $ go to Democrats. (Source: http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/list.php )

    Concerned Citizen,

    I understand the sales pitch, but I am not buying. It seems the end game is to connect Chigago to Minneapolis. Guess what, you can get to and from between Chicago and Minneapolis by train today.

    Do you not understand that you are talking about a huge upfront investment in an item that relatively few people will use and it will come with a sizable ongoing maintenance cost?

    Will they name the “first leg” of this project “The Hoan”?

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