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 nation‘s 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.