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Opposition to rail may cost Walker

Gov.-elect Scott Walker says "Wiconsin is open for business," but if jobs leave the state due to high-speed rail he could be in trouble. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

Gov.-elect Scott Walker says "Wiconsin is open for business." But if jobs leave the state due to Walker's stance on high-speed rail, voters will remember. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

By Matt Pommer

Is Scott Walker making rookie mistakes as he rushes to become Wisconsins next governor?

It started when Walker hurried to stop the high-speed Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison passenger rail line.

Lame duck Gov. Jim Doyle quickly agreed to put a hold on any additional work on the project. That means whatever the outcome — good or bad — the result will be Walker’s responsibility.

During the campaign Walker criticized high-speed rail, saying it would be better to have the $810 million in federal stimulus money used for highway repair projects. But the choice of how the federal money is spent doesn’t belong to Walker.

New York and Illinois governors quickly said they’d be delighted to have the Wisconsin rail money. The company building the rail cars has created jobs in Milwaukee. One outcome, it suggested, could be moving the jobs to Illinois.

As the drama unfolded, Walker said he would move to lure Illinois companies to move to Wisconsin.

Walker sounded annoyed that the federal stimulus money might end up south of the Wisconsin line.

What happens if high-speed rail service is a boon for the Chicago-to-St. Louis route? Someone will remember who was responsible for Illinois getting the additional money. The loss of rail building jobs certainly would be remembered.

As he pushes forward, Walker really needs the Obama administration to let Wisconsin have the money for highway construction. Many Republicans think almost every Obama idea but Afghanistan is a boondoggle or worse. But this is not a choice the administration has.

The odds are the rail money would go to states with new Democratic governors who applaud the high-speed rail vision. If the rail stimulus money were converted to highway construction, the other 49 states would probably want shares of the money. Their members of Congress are in Washington taking care of their own states — not Wisconsin.

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, a Republican from Fond du Lac, says federal law would have to be changed to allow Wisconsin to use the rail grant for highway construction. Petri is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Chances of the law being changed are “little-to-none,” according to Petri, a veteran congressman. He said members of Congress from other states, including those who may get the Wisconsin money, would have to vote for changing the law. That’s “very unlikely,” he said.

The Oshkosh Northwestern editorialized that Walker should be prepared to accept the consequences of losing rail-car manufacturing jobs. It suggested his move was a Buster Keaton-like comedy.

All this might have been avoided had Walker taken his time to weigh the consequences of rushing to be governor eight weeks before his inauguration.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.


  1. Walker was a disaster for Milwaukee County, which he spent seven years ******** up as county exec. For this is awarded the opportunity to screw up the state. Walker will be one and done, but we’ll have to suffer for his stupidity and venality for years after we boot him out.

  2. What a state. Do we know how to pick ’em, or what? And I’m not even going to mention Senator Joe McCarthy.

    Yes, “Concrete Scott” Walker, with his 26% pay raise for his personally-picked chief of staff former alderman Tom Nardelli, bypassing County Board approval in large pay raises to several other aides despite a projected year-end deficit of nearly $6 million and a report showing county departments have held vacant more than 700 positions approved in the budget?

    Concrete Scott Walker rewarded his top managers while passing a budget calling for layoffs of union workers.

    Among the other friends of Scott Walker’s top aides with big raises was Mitchell International Airport Director Barry Bateman whose pay rose $13,595, or 11%, to $136,299 a year. Facilities Management Director Jack Takerian got an $11,771 (12.5%) raise, to nearly $106,000.

    Supervisor Lynne De Bruin said “Some of these folks got some pretty hefty raises.” Supervisor John Weishan Jr. called Nardelli’s proposed $20,000 raise “obscene.” Scott Walker called those “cheap shots” because the board allowed a $10,000 raise for County Board Chief of Staff Terry Cooley last year because of added duties, such as monitoring the county’s lobbyists.

    Nardelli already collected about $30,000 a year in a city pension and also has a military pension for his 25 years as an Army reservist. If he stays at his county job at the new pay level for another three years, Nardelli could also collect a county pension of about $5,700 to $7,600 a year. Scott Walker said the adjustment was needed to bring Nardelli’s pay “more in line with other similar jobs.” Orville Seymer of Citizens for Responsible Government Network, said “I just think all these people are overpaid”.

  3. Really Sad actually. Walker has a chance to turn this around and reverse his bizarre and anti-business stance against rail. Rail = economic growth. I don’t know why that doesn’t make sense to Walker. Otherwise I don’t mind the guy so much.

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