By Matt Pommer
Is Scott Walker making rookie mistakes as he rushes to become Wisconsin‘s 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.