Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Road-Builders See Less Rail, More Tolling From GOP Cpngress

Here's the full text of an industry newsletter suggesting that while there will be rollbacks, the road-builders will be take care of by the new Republican Congress.

Expect the same when the GOP takes over in Madison, too:



 
Innovation Briefs
Vol. 21, No. 28www.innobriefs.com

November 29, 2010
A Fresh Look at the Prospects for Transportation in the New Congress 





Last month we conducted an informal survey among colleagues in the transportation community about the outlook for the federal surface transportation program in the year(s) ahead. ("Prospects for Transportation Legislation and Other Infrastructure Ventures," InnoBriefs, October 29). One comment from a veteran transportation insider summed up concisely the collective mindset: "There will be nothing ‘transformational’ about the future program," he opined. As more details begin to emerge about the Republican strategy in the next Congress, his observation is proving to be right on target. What follows is a fresh look at the prospects for the transportation program in the 112th Congress, based on new information— and in some cases, speculation— from congressional and other Washington-based sources.

"Stabilizing" the Highway Trust Fund
Among the preliminary recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (the "Deficit Commission") there are two proposals that pertain to the federal surface transportation program. One proposal is to gradually raise the gas tax by 15 cents beginning in 2013; another proposal is to limit transportation spending to existing revenue collections and prohibit general fund bailouts of transportation trust funds. While the first recommendation is widely considered as going nowhere in the next Congress, the second one stands a good chance of being embraced by the fiscally conservative lawmakers taking charge next January.

As one senior congressional aide told us, "predictable revenues rather than undocumented ‘needs’ will dictate the level of the transportation budget in the next Congress." The practical implications of this policy will be a significant reduction in the scope and reach of the federal surface transportation program. If spending is to be limited to existing revenue collection, the highway program can expect to be reduced by $7-8 billion/year and the transit program by $3 billion/year from the curent (FY 2010) level. (These estimates assume future Highway Trust Fund income, including tax revenues and interest, of approximately $35 billion/year in the highway account and $5.5 billion/year in the transit account, as projected by the Congressional Budget Office.)

Most likely victims of the fiscal retrenchment will be programs that are not deemed of federal interest or national significance and are primarily of benefit to local communities. These include various "transportation enhancement" programs and "livability" initiatives such as pedestrian and bicycle facilities, acquisition of scenic easements, historic preservation, rails-to-trails, and highway beautification. Such programs will be considered as prime candidates for devolution, to be funded at local discretion by state and local authorities.

Another possible victim of a budgetary retrenchment could be the "executive earmarks" such as the popular (at least with their recipients) TIGER grants. The next Congress is expected to rein in Administration authority to make discretionary grants, both to save money and because many lawmakers have grown to distrust the TIGER project selection process as lacking in transparency.

Will the Democratic majority in the Senate go along with the new Republican House policy of fiscal retrenchment?  With a reduced Democratic majority and as many as 23 Senate Democrats running for reelection in two years, it will be difficult for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid to keep his troops in line, a senior Senate aide speculated.  A certain number of defections will be inevitable, especially when matters of "runaway spending" and deficit reduction are concerned.  

Better Leveraging of Existing Resources
To compensate for reduced revenue and to make up for the dwindling revenue-raising power of the gas tax, the next Congress is expected to try and better leverage existing revenue sources. It might do so by seeking to facilitate public-private partnerships; encourage the use of tolling (but not on existing interstates); and expand opportunities for innovative financing such as state infrastructure banks, TIFIA, and Private Activity Bonds.

Expected to fall out of favor with the lawmakers is the National Infrastructure Bank (NIB). As proposed by the Obama Administration, the NIB is not a true bank but a semi-autonomous entity with powers to make grants as well as loans. As such, the proposed "bank" runs into bipartisan Senate opposition because lawmakers do not want to cede the power to make major public investment decisions to an "unelected body of bureaucrats" over which they would have limited oversight.

Also expected to meet with disfavor is the proposed Office of Public Benefit, a brainchild of Congressman Oberstar who wanted the federal government to exercise closer control and supervision over state-initiated toll concessions and other public-private arrangements. Such an office would be opposed by many Republican lawmakers and by the National Governors Association who do not wish to throw obstacles in the way of closer public-private cooperation and greater participation of private investors in funding public infrastructure. Neither the Infrastructure Bank nor the Office of Public Benefit are expected to be part of any future congressionally-sponsored surface transportation legislation.

Also hanging in the balance is the future of another Administration financial initiative, the "Build America Bonds" (BABs). BABs are taxable bonds that offer a federal interest rate subsidy to the issuer to reduce borrowing costs. Authority to issue these bonds is set to expire at the end of this year unless it is permanently extended during the lame-duck session. Concern has been expressed that BABs could become a new federal bailout and add to the budget deficit.
Cancelling and/or Reprogramming Uncommitted Stimulus (ARRA) Funds

House committee leaders in the next Congress are likely to come under strong pressure to retrieve whatever remains of the unspent and uncommitted stimulus funds. The prospective Republican Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA),  introduced a bill (H.R. 6403, the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Rescission Act") that would rescind any unobligated ARRA funds and return them to the U.S. Treasury. Lewis warned that he will reintroduce his bill in the new Congress, if necessary.  Even already obligated funds may not escape rescission. Congressional GOP aides are reported to be closely reviewing agency records to identify particular stimulus-funded projects that could still be "reasonably" halted because work on them is only beginning.

The Lewis bill is the strongest signal yet of how the new House Republican majority intends to use its legislative power of the purse to nullify elements of the Obama transportation agenda. Acting on this strategy, the future chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica (R-FL), has announced that he will revisit all pending high-speed rail (HSR) projects, and refocus the unspent and uncommitted money on high-speed rail "where it makes sense." "The last thing we want is to build a dog that has to be highly subsidized by taxpayers," Mica said in reference to the Florida Tampa-to-Orlando HSR project and indirectly casting doubt on dozens of other HSR grants.

According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, of the $46 billion in stimulus funds originally allocated to transportation, around $6.3 billion (14%) still remain unobligated and $24 billion (52%) have not been paid out (WSJ, "Unspent Stimulus Dollars," November 20). Most of the unobligated transportation money is in the high-speed rail program. These funds have been released slowly because of delays encountered in concluding cooperative partnership agreements between states and the freight railroads. De-obligation of the grant awards to Wisconsin and Ohio will further increase the savings. 

Meanwhile, Florida's Governor-elect Rick Scott is not making a final decision on the Tampa-to-Orlando project until he determines how much of a fiscal burden the high-speed rail project would impose upon the state. He has been reported to be concerned that the line could be more of a liability than a benefit to the taxpayers. 

The lack of a transit distribution system at either end of the high-speed line compound the questionable nature of the investment.

Also risking cancellation is a $2 billion grant to California’s high-speed rail line, according to press reports (See, "GOP House aims to take $2 billion back from California high-speed-rail," The Mercury News, November 22). In sum, as one editorial observed, "the high-speed train appears to be stuck at the station." 

A $4.3 Billion "High-Speed Train to Nowhere"
In the meantime, the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced on November 24, that the first 65-mile leg of California's  high-speed rail line will be built from Fresno (pop. 505,000)  to Corcoran (pop. 14,500) in Central Valley. The staff recommendation  follows a directive by the Federal Railroad Administration that the federal funding awarded to the project  must be dedicated to a single section of the project in the Central Valley. Roelof van Ark, the Authority's CEO said this segment "would make the best use of the $4.3 billion currently available construction funds." But if Congress fails to authorize future funds to extend the line, the money would be largely wasted.

The project  was quickly dubbed by critics as "a high-speed train to nowhere." If confirmed by the Authority's Board, the decision to spend $4.5 billion on an isolated route not serving any large population concentration could become a huge embarassment  for the Administration and undermine the credibility  of the entire high-speed rail program.

FY 2011 Appropriations and the Surface Transportation Program Extension
Two immediate decisions are facing Congress during the lame-duck session: to keep the money flowing and to extend the existing SAFETEA-LU authorization, which will expire on December 31.

Funding for the surface transportation program expires on December 3 with the termination of the continuing resolution. Congress is expected to pass another short-term extension of the continuing resolution at Fiscal Year 2010 funding levels. Early next year, the new Republican House of Representatives is expected to address the funding for the remainder of FY 2011.
As for the surface transportation authorization, congressional leaders are discussing the possibility of a six-month program extension. Early in the next session, Rep,

 Mica plans to hold a series of "listening sessions" following which he is expected to introduce a multi-year authorization bill. If a bill is not passed by the end of 2011, it will likely be delayed beyond the next presidential election.
 
###
                                                           
 

Los Angeles Moving More Towards Rail: Wisconsin Stays Parked

Remember this the next time you read about Southeastern Wisconsin's often unhealthy air (I've lost track of the number of 2010 alerts), or when sitting in the parking lot also known as the freeway system during rush hour, of after a routine fender-bender or jack-knifed semi.

Ah yes, you say: We're not LA.

So the alternative is the status quo?

How one-dimensionally stubborn.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Congressional Republicans Could Tax Middle-Class To Death

First the mortgage interest deduction?

And now employer-provided health care plans?

And where is the income for middle-class consumers to buy the goods made in this country to stimulate manufacturing and hiring?

Is Fine Dining On This Week's SEWRPC Menu?

"For those following the regional planning commission's water supply study - - five years in the making and concluding that the best option for the region is to send Lake Michigan water to Waukesha (surprise!) - - note that the full commission holds its quarterly meeting Wednesdayday, December 1st, in downtown Milwaukee, with the plan adoption on its agenda.

I will reproduce the agenda in part below with the details.

Last year, the commission adjourned its meeting held at the The War Memorial on the lakefront and reconvened - - with selected senior staff and former staffers (now with consultant work) a few blocks away at The University Club for a taxpayer-paid dinner costing $1,000.

Recession?

Not a problem - - if you have an operating budget provided by the commission's seven counties as a matter of debate-free regularity from their taxpayer's property tax collections.

The menu included cordon bleu, beef tenderloin and truffle cake. 

The dinner was not on last year's December meeting agenda, but members openly counted heads for attendance at the meal as the meeting was ending - - a meeting I attended - - so as far as I could tell, it was just business as usual: another year in the books: off to the soiree.

I have asked SEWRPC Executive Director Ken Yunker if that is the plan this year, too, but far have not heard back.

Here is the meeting information from SEWRP's home page:

"NOTICE OF MEETING SOUTHEASTERN WISCONSIN REGIONAL PLANNING COMMISSION QUARTERLY MEETING

December 1, 2010 3:00 p.m.
Milwaukee County War Memorial Center North Memorial Hall, 3rd Floor 750 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr. Milwaukee, WI 53202

TENTATIVE AGENDA:

5.    Consideration of adoption of the SEWRPC Planning Report No. 52, A Regional Water Supply Plan for Southeastern Wisconsin (copy of Planning Report and Resolution No. 2010-18 enclosed)."

And the dinner? If I get an answer to last week's email inquiries, I'll post it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Global Mourning

Not a typo.

Plenty Of Fascinating Winter, La Nina Information Here

A great weather blog by Jeff Masters, always worth a read.

One tidbit  - - put up more for the climate change deniers than for others:

"How will Arctic sea ice loss affect the winter?
 
"NOAA issued their annual Arctic Report Card last month, and discussed the fact that recent record sea ice loss in the summer in the Arctic is having major impacts on winter weather over the continents of the Northern Hemisphere. 


"The Report Card states, "There continues to be significant excess heat storage in the Arctic Ocean at the end of summer due to continued near-record sea ice loss. There is evidence that the effect of higher air temperatures in the lower Arctic atmosphere in fall is contributing to changes in the atmospheric circulation in both the Arctic and northern mid-latitudes. Winter 2009-2010 showed a new connectivity between mid-latitude extreme cold and snowy weather events and changes in the wind patterns of the Arctic; the so-called Warm Arctic-Cold Continents pattern...With future loss of sea ice, such conditions as winter 2009-2010 could happen more often. Thus we have a potential climate change paradox. Rather than a general warming everywhere, the loss of sea ice and a warmer Arctic can increase the impact of the Arctic on lower latitudes, bringing colder weather to southern locations." 

"As a specific example of what the Report Card is talking about, Francis et al. (2009) found that during 1979 - 2006, years that had unusually low summertime Arctic sea ice had a 10 - 20% reduction in the temperature difference between the Equator and North Pole. This resulted in a weaker jet stream with slower winds that lasted a full six months, through fall and winter. 

"The weaker jet caused a weaker Aleutian Low and Icelandic Low during the winter, resulting in a more negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), allowing cold air to spill out of the Arctic and into Europe and the Eastern U.S. 

"Thus, Arctic sea ice loss may have been partially responsible for the record negative NAO observed during the winter of 2009 - 2010, and the emergence of the "Warm Arctic-Cold Continents pattern." 

"This pattern is kind of like leaving the refrigerator door ajar--the refrigerator warm up, but all the cold air spills out into the house. If the Arctic Report Card is right, we'll be seeing more of this pattern during coming winters--possibly even during the winter of 2010 - 2011."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Waukesha Water Officials Keep Flunking The Open Government Test

Some Waukesha officials simply cannot do the right thing when it comes to transparency and water planning - - a disturbing reflex first seen in 2006 when the city's two secret written requests for access to Lake Michigan water were prepared, sent to (and ignored b ) Gov. Jim Doyle, and revealed through an Open Records request.

The game-playing over Lake Michigan water access continues - - but first, before a fresh set of records, some background.

You will remember that Waukesha cancelled a November 18th meeting with the Department of Natural Resources about the city's troubled application for a Lake Michigan water diversion because environmental organizations - - a "special interest," as Common Council President Paul Ybarra told the DNR by letter - - were going to sit in and observe.

Observers! Can't have that.

Remember also that earlier this year, the Waukesha Common Council had agreed unanimously that Waukesha water utility manager Dan Duchniak and Mayor Jeff Scrima would be joint points of communication on the water issue with the DNR.

That agreement calmed a political storm after Scrima, a Lake Michigan supp;y skeptic, won an upset victory in April over pro-diversion incumbent Larry Nelson and later wrote to the DNR expressing his concerns.

Some Council members wanted to cut Scrima out of communications with the DNR as the state agency wrestled with whether to begin a formal review of Waukesha's diversion application; the 'who-speaks-for-Waukesha' compromise created a communications and power-sharing arrangement - - but one drawn up by the Council which, along with the water utility, strongly supports the diversion and the diversion application and finds Scrima's opposition vexing.

Power-sharing?

Can't have that.

Documents I obtained under the Wisconsin Open Records statute indicate that Common Council Ybarra wrote the DNR - - his November 16th letter is posted at this DNR website - - to say that the meeting was off.

Duchniak told the Mayor of the cancellation and Ybarra defended the communications end-run to Scrima, the records show.

What does all this mean?

That the power struggle over directing Waukesha's still-stalled Lake Michigan diversion application very much continues, with Mayor Scrima still fighting others in Waukesha government for a role in the process, and thus advocating for a truly transparent process.

I cannot imagine any of this goes down well at the DNR, which must decide whether to process and move the application to the other seven Great Lakes states - - all of which must agree that Waukesha produced a sound application for the application to be implemented..

This application is the first under the eight-state, two-nation (US- Canada) 2008 Great Lakes Compact. That compact was approved by the US Congress and signed by the President of the United States. It's a very big deal.

For Waukesha, under a legally-imposed 2018 deadline to permanently fix decades-old water quality issues, this application puts the city at the threshold of The Super Bowl.

And pro-diversion forces in Waukesha City Hall want to keep playing flag football.

Here are the records obtained through an Open Records request to Mayor Scrima:


-----Original Message-----
From: Dan S. Duchniak [mailto:DDuchniak@waukesha-water.com]
Sent: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 12:47 PM
To: Jeff Scrima
Subject: RE: DNR meeting
 
Mayor,
 
It has been brought to our attention that the DNR invited a third party to be in attendance at our meeting.  Due to the fact that the discussion was to be centered on legal issues related to the application, the City Attorney has advised strongly against participating in the meeting.
 
Therefore, Paul Ybarra will be sending a letter requesting a future meeting instead of this week.  That way we will be able to work through those issues.
 
Thanks
 
Daniel S. Duchniak, P.E.
General Manager
Waukesha Water Utility
115 Delafield Street
Waukesha , WI   53188

(262) 521-5272 ext. 518
(262) 521-5265 fax
>
 
________________________________
From: Jeff Scrima [mailto:jscrima@ci.waukesha.wi.us]
Sent: Monday, November 15, 2010 2:53 PM
To: Dan S. Duchniak
Subject: DNR meeting
Importance: High
 
Hi Dan –
Please confirm with me the date, time and location of our meeting with the DNR.
Are we carpooling? Who all will be in attendance at that meeting?
Thanks for your prompt response
Jeff Scrima
Mayor, City of Waukesha
201 Delafield Street
Waukesha WI 53188

262.524.3700
 
November 18, 2010
Alderman Ybarra,
This letter is regarding your recent letter to the Wisconsin DNR Secretary Matthew J. Frank dated November 16, 2010, which is attached.
Based upon what authority did you send this letter to the DNR? As you are aware, the corporate authority of the City of Waukesha is vested in both the Common Council and the Mayor. Did you consult each Council member on this letter? 

I know you did not consult the Mayor’s Office on this letter. 
While I understand you were following the recommendation of the city attorney, the city attorney only makes recommendations and does not hold the corporate authority of the city. 

You, as one alderman, also cannot unilaterally make decisions on how the City of Waukesha communicates with the DNR without prior Council and Mayor approval. 
Your letter also is in contradiction to City of Waukesha Council action on July 27, 2010, whereby the council decided that all future “communications and information” regarding the Application for a Great Lakes Diversion would go through both Dan Duchniak, General Manager of the Water Utility, and the Mayor’s office. I had no knowledge of or input on this letter which you sent.
Moreover, your request in your letter to “[reschedule] the meeting between the City as applicant and the WDNR without the inclusions of third [parties]” sounds as though you are advocating for a closed-door meeting. 

This flies in the face of transparency, the public trust, and the citizens of the City of Waukesha which we represent. This is also reminiscent of the closed-door meeting you held with City of Milwaukee officials related to water back in May.
My personal opinion is that all future meetings with the DNR should be in broad daylight and include any citizens or press which wish to attend. 

Our diversion request is the first time the Compact is applied and must be done correctly, thoroughly and with utmost transparency.
As Mayor, and the Chief Executive Officer of the City of Waukesha, I kindly ask that you follow state statute, council policy and keep all communications and information related to the City of Waukesha’s future water source out in the open.
Sincerely,
 
Jeff Scrima, Mayor
Cc:    City of Waukesha Common Council, City of Waukesha Water Utility Commission, and Dan Duchniak, City of Waukesha Water Utility Manager
 

From: Paul Ybarra [mailto: paulrybarra@gmail.com ]
Sent: Friday, November 19, 2010 4:28 PM
To: Jeff Scrima
Cc: clichtie@wi.rr.com ; christopher.r.hernandez@marquette.edu ; duaneepaulson@aol.com ; Joan Francoeur; Joseph Pieper ; kmcummings@att.net ; Paul Furrer ; Rick Tortomasi; revroger.patton2@gmail.com ; sgjohnson10@hotmail.com ; Terry Thieme ; Vance Skinner; Ald John Kalblinger ; Al Roeker ; Bill Boyle ; Dan Warren (dwarren@pabstfarms.com); Greg Zinda (gjzinda@sbcglobal.net); Joe Piatt ; Dan S. Duchniak
Subject: Re: Letter to Alderman Ybarra, regarding communication with DNR on water - November 18, 2010
 
Dear Mayor,
I’m sorry you were upset by the meeting cancellation letter.  The meeting cancellation was not intended to upset anyone.   The Water Utility and City Attorney’s Office shared their concerns about a special interest group joining a discussion with regulators about legal issues.  Due to the fact that Secretary Frank addressed his September 20th letter to me, it seemed like proper etiquette.
Personally I have no preference or strong feelings whether the letter came from the Water Utility Office, Attorney’s Office, Mayor’s Office, another council member or other city staff members.  The intent of the letter was simply to postpone the meeting. 
If you are interested in discussing the reason the Water Utility or the Attorney’s Office wished to reschedule the meeting, I you may want to touch base with them. 
Best regards,

Paul
 
 
 

Friday, November 26, 2010

The "Tommy G. Thompson" Ain't What Is Used To Be

Remember when Tommy Thompson was Mr. Amtrak? And a national spokesman for high-speed passenger rail?

Now he's the guy who fell into line behind Scott Walker's cancellation of inter-city rail service between Milwaukee and Madison - - and who was once Amtrak's board chairman, and who had the honor of having an Amtrak locomotive named after himself - - sample picture, here - -  and who hoped to be named Secretary of the US Department of Transportation, also won a national award on the subject in 1999 for, as his citation reads:

"Encouraging bi-partisan support for nationwide intercity passenger rail."

You want more sad irony about how far ol' locomotive #182 has run off its tracks?

Here's the organization's statement on the day it honored its hero: 

RAIL PASSENGERS HONOR WISCONSIN GOVERNOR THOMPSON
April 21, 1999 

"The National Association of Railroad Passengers tomorrow (Thursday) will present the George Falcon Golden Spike Award to the Governor of Wisconsin and Chairman of the Amtrak Board, Tommy G. Thompson. The award will be presented at the Association's annual Washington reception, at the Columbus Club in Union Station, at about 6:15 pm.

The Award honors Governor Thompson as a "champion" of "intercity passenger rail improvements nationwide" and for his recognition of the need for a true national system, and notes that he has devoted an "impressive amount of time...to his work as Chairman of Amtrak."

NARP President John R. Martin, who will present the award, said, "we particularly appreciate Governor Thompson's effective, persuasive and tireless efforts in carrying to Congress the message that passenger rail enjoys broad, bipartisan support. The Governor also deserves much of the credit for instituting a state passenger rail program in Wisconsin and for that state’s leadership role in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

Equally important, he continues to advance the concept of giving all states the flexibility to spend their federal transportation funds on passenger rail."

(NARP is a non-profit, non-partisan, independent membership group dedicated to educating the public about the benefits of rail travel.)

Haven't heard enough?

Read Tommy's 11/1/2001 remarks at the locomotive-naming ceremony, which he said was one of the greatest moments of his life.

I will bold-face some sentences.

"Thank you so very much, (Amtrak CEO and President) George Warrington. This is one of the greatest honors of my life, and your very kind words make it all the more meaningful. It was a pleasure to serve with you on the Amtrak board, and your leadership continues to be extraordinary.

It's also wonderful to see my friends Sylvia de Leon and Amy Rosen of the Amtrak board, and thank you for the very generous comments. Working with you was a pleasure, and I appreciate your coming to join me on this special day.

In politics, you get a lot of awards and citations. But to have an engine named for me is something that touches me very deeply. I have a model of the "Governor Tommy Thompson" on my desk at the Department of Health and Human Services, and every time I see it, I'm reminded of why I love Amtrak and trains and why I'm so passionate about America's railways.

My love for railroads is rooted in my Wisconsin heritage. In my great home state, the first railroad was chartered in 1847.

In the words of historian Joseph Ranney, railroads in Wisconsin "made Wisconsin's cities and rural areas interdependent, and they enabled Wisconsin to move from a frontier economy to a diversified agricultural and industrial economy."

That was certainly true of my hometown of Elroy. Elroy was a rail hub early in its history and I grew up listening to the sounds of trains coming through.

There's something haunting about the sound of a train in the night. As a boy, it fired my imagination and inspired a sense of wonderful mystery. Thinking of where a train might be going . of what I would see as I traveled . of what I would find at the end of the line . all those things created within me a passion for rail travel that's never diminished.

Trains have been important to me, but they have been decisive in the history of our country. Abraham Lincoln, my great hero, was an attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad before he became President, and as President he signed the Pacific Railway Act, which created the Union Pacific Railroad Company and authorized it to build a railroad from Nebraska to western Nevada.

At the same time, the Central Pacific was authorized to build a line from the Pacific Coast.
In 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah, the lines met. And the rest is history.

Railroads united a country and they brought us together as a people. Ranchers could ship cattle raised on the prairie to Chicago butchers . who would then ship meat to the great cities of the East. Whether you're talking about West Virginia coal, Oregon wheat or Wisconsin lumber, the rails made America prosper.

They also let people travel in safety and comfort. They enabled families to begin new lives . businesses to flourish ... and communities to grow.

But America's railway system is not just a matter of history. America still needs a strong passenger rail system. Without it, we discourage economic growth in urban areas. Passenger rail - and specifically, high- speed rail - is important to the economic growth of our cities and our overall transportation system in a nation of nearly 300 million people.
 
In Wisconsin and in eight other states, work continues on the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative. In Wisconsin, the goal is to have high-speed service from Madison to Milwaukee by the end of 2003.

In corridors throughout the country - California, the Southeast, the Gulf Coast, the Pacific Northwest - states and Amtrak are planning other high- speed rail services that will help grow the economy.

My friends, I know you share my belief that we must create a world-class, high-speed passenger rail system. Together, we need to spread that message around the country. We need to work together to take our message beyond the rail community and help officials in at the local, state and federal levels understand the need for passenger rail. 

Transportation is an essential component of our country's economy. And at a time of national crisis, safe and rapid rail travel becomes a matter of national security. We have to spread that message to policymakers on Capitol Hill and to ordinary citizens who have deserve a rail system as safe, secure, efficient and dependable as we can make it.
Amtrak is committed to providing a high-quality, attractive service in corridors throughout the nation.

Acela is becoming a model for success that we hope to replicate in many regions. And we need to show our passion for this issue because it truly offers a dynamic new way of dealing with our increasingly crowded roadways and air terminals.

It was Abraham Lincoln who reminded us of the need to always communicate accurately and forcefully the things we believe most deeply. As he put it, "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts."

The "real facts" are that we need stable rail beds . high-speed passenger rail . competitive shipping rates . and a comprehensive rail system that is second to none in the world. 

Let me close by again thanking you for honoring my family and me with "The Governor Tommy G. Thompson."

I'm so very humbled by this honor, and will never forget it.

Thank you again so very much. God bless you all."


Journal Sentinel To Track Scott Walker's Promises

Looking for suggestions.

Alternative To Black Friday's Consumptive Miasma

Right here.

You can read this blog for free.

You can download, post, comment and link for nothing.

Great Lakes management? High-speed rail? Waukesha water? Scott Walker monkey-wrenching? SEWRPC and sprawl, transit, trains and the urban advantage? Political news, and environmental analyses?

I mean, where else will you get William Faulkner worked into land use problems?

Or scintillating guest posts - - some from pols, and others from readers.

All here and the price is right.

SEWRPC Offered Free Trial Use Of Audio Device To Record Meetings

I noted in a Thanksgiving posting - - here - - that SEWRPC was involved in a dispute over the accuracy and completeness of its meetings' minutes because it still has a staff member take hand-written notes.

And that, for about $70, I had purchased a digital audio recorder with a computer upload feature so I could begin to keep a record of those SEWRPC meetings I attend.

If you will look in the comment section of that linked posting you will see an offer to SEWRPC of a higher-end, proven recorder.

The comment says:

"My company transcribes recorded voice. Last year I purchased a digital recorder because I was impressed by the quality of the digital recording. I have since loaned it free to two clients who were about to do interviews on (low quality) tapes.

I offer this device to SEWRPC for a meeting, after which they can easily upload the audio to a computer, to their web site. No charge. Just good will. They may just like it enough to buy one ($150 at Office Depot). November 26, 2010 9:15 AM."


The commenter has emailed me more information about his offer, so I'd be glad to facilitate the trial offer if SEWRPC is interested.

Climate Change Hits The Confederacy

I'm not sure Virginia has leadership to deal with the reality.

Down The Line, When Scott Walker Touts Discoveries Here...

Remember that this cutting-edge institute was built with - - horrors - - under Gov. Jim Doyle, with state and federal grants.

Which some might have trashed, and blocked, as earmarks.

So bookmark this as source material for ScottWalkerHypocrisyWatch.com

Thursday, November 25, 2010

New Madison-Free High-Speed Train Route?

Some say perhaps.

I began hearing that last week.

As I wrote:

"Remember that some of the money ticketed for high-speed rail and rejected by incoming Gov. Scott Walker was to finance improvements to the existing Hiawatha Amtrak line from Chicago to Milwaukee, and then north and west of Madison on the once-daily Empire Builder route that goes all the way to the Pacific Northwest...

"That 'solution,' of course, cuts Wisconsin out of the high-speed rail system envisioned for the Midwest, and leaves Madisonians who want to ride the Empire Builder to Milwaukee, Mitchell Field or Chicago to first drive 26 miles to Columbus, WI, (no shuttle bus).

"Don't be surprised if this is the deal Walker supports, or has others float for him."

Giving Thanksgiving When People Make The Public Interest Their Special Interest

Today I'm giving thanks to the volunteers and non-profit organizations and staffers that aren't getting rich when working for fresh air, clean water, land preservation, economic equality, alternative energy, social justice and world peace

So many to thank - - and you know who you are - - but here are a few:

The good folks who trying to maintain and preserve the Monarch Trail on the County Grounds, where an unholy alliance of officials from the private sector, UWM, Milwaukee County and the City of Wauwatosa are hell-bent on digging up and paving over a key section of open space in the Milwaukee County.

Hats off to those volunteers.

*  Then there are publicly-minded citizens working to keep Lake Michigan water planning and growth plans in Waukesha County out in the open.

Which is not easy, as the City of Waukesha canceled a meeting with another public body - - the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - - because representatives from a coalition of environmental organizations wanted to sit in and observe a discussion about Waukesha's controversial application for a diversion of Lake Michigan water.

Details here.

Citing his city attorney, the Waukesha Common Council president Paul Ybarra charged that the observers were a "special interest."

The letter with that absurd claim has been posted by the DNR, here.

That's the public's reward for being interested in how its money and environment is to be used, and for trying to maintain a transparent process that began, I will remind you, with Waukesha's two attempts to win a Lake Michigan diversion with a back-door confidential process discovered through the Wisconsin Open Meetings law.

So you want to know what a special interest is? Here's a good example (hat tip, road-builders.)

Or how the special interests work? Learn from the oil and gas lobbyists.

Waukesha County has a decades-old watchdog group, the Waukesha Environmental Action League (WEAL) - - what Ybarra & Co. presumably think is a fearsome "special interest." Consider its position on wetlands, for example:

"...preserving and enhancing the natural heritage of Waukesha County. We encourage developers, private landowners, and governments to preserve and protect wetlands by setting them aside as outlots, conservation easements, or through purchase by public or private agencies."

 Special interest or public interest?

*  And speaking of people trying to keep the public's business open - - a goal too often ignored by public employees being paid to perform and protect public business and interests - - here's a little information a less-well-publicized struggle for open and democratic government activity.

An Environmental Justice Task Force (EJTF) set up in 2007 under pressure by federal regulators who evaluate the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is not producing accurate and complete minutes of the task force's public meetings, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.

This dispute has arisen because SEWRPC does not carry out video or even simpler audio recordings of its meetings from which meeting minutes could be then be produced and posted online.

(I raised this issue unsuccessfully with then SEWRPC Deputy Director, and now Executive Director Ken Yunker, after a 2005 session of the SEWRPC water supply advisory committee.)

SEWRPC assigns a planner to take notes at the EJTF meetings, but has refused to provide those notes so that that the accuracy of some meeting minutes could be validated.

The Open Records law provides an exemption to disclosure of some notes - - but is legal parsing and reliance on technicalities any way to run a public meeting, or to respond to a request from an observer about the meeting minutes' accuracy?

Yunker has said he would try and resolve disagreements about the minutes - - but there are ways to make sure this doesn't happen again: how about getting a nice digital voice-activated audio recorder?

They now come with a little pop-out, built-in USB plug for a computer connection to facilitate transcription and cost about $70. I just bought one.

SEWRPC could do that, too, or with a few bucks more, videotape and stream meeting content, too, because the technology gets less costly by the month.

You could watch all of SEWRPC's proceedings, and archive them.

The agency finally has an updated website, but can't take some baby steps to make the most if it.

Money is not the issue: SEWRPC ponies up $1,000 every year for a thank-you dinner for Commissioners, senior staff and consultants - - these soirees are held at The University Club on the lower east side in Milwaukee - - but chooses to document meetings with ball point pens and note paper, and leaves the advocacy for open meeting content and policy-making discussions to more motivated observers.

We all owe these advocates and activists and others our thanks for their special interest in the public interest.

Reaching Out To MMAC, Talgo Should Expect Disappointment

Talgo will learn that the MMAC is not brave enough to buck Scott Walker.

The business community has already walked away from its recent support of high-speed rail, and the MMAC raised money for Walker.

End of story.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Face Of Election Fraud


Road Engineer's Confession Reminiscent Of SE Freeway Expansion Rationale

Fascinating expose.

The Elections Did Not Clear The Air

Republicans out to weaken EPA, and more.

Pitching In To Restore The Monarch Trail

Where would we be without such volunteers.

Talk about regional cooperation.  A great story.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

High-Speed Rail Funding Forfeiture And The Deficit: Can You Say "Drop In The Bucket?"

A reader sends this analysis of and commentary about the impact on the federal deficit should Scott Walker return Wisconsin's $810 million in high-speed rail funds to the US Treasury.

In a nutshell, it's a per-capita Wisconsin contribution of $3.

I'd say all the jobs the train could have created and assisted were worth far more.

[By the way, here is a national story about deficits and math. Great minds are definitely on the same page (spreadsheet?) today.]

I couldn't reproduce the reader's spreadsheet in its nice formatting, but here's the gist of it.

Estimated 2010 U.S. Federal Budget Deficit:
$1,600,000,000,000

2009 Estimate of US Population;
307,006,550

2009 Estimate of Wisconsin’s Population:
5,654,774

Per Capita Share of Federal Budget Deficit:
($1.6 Trillion / US Population) $5,212

WI Share of Federal Deficit
Population x Per Capita Budget Deficit #: 
5,212 x 5,654,774 = $29,472,682,088

WI Resident Per Capita Share of Federal Budget Deficit:
$5,212

Federal Stimulus Money Awarded for national High-Speed Rail (via 2009 Stimulus, ARRA):
$8,000,000,000

WI Per Capita Share of National High-Speed Rail:
$8 Billion /WI Population $1,415

Federal DOT Discretionary Grant Award for Wisconsin- Milwaukee to Madison High-Speed Rail Project:
$810,000,000

WI Per Capita Share of WI High-Speed Rail Project:
($810 Million / Population):
$143.24

Estimated 2010 U.S. Federal Budget deficit if Wisconsin’s rail award is “returned” for “deficit relief:”
$1,599,190,000,000

Per Capita Share of Federal Budget Deficit after “return” of Wisconsin Rail award:
($1.599190 Trillion / 307006550) $5,209

WI Per Capita Federal Budget Deficit Reduction after “return” of Wisconsin Rail Award:
$3.00

New WI Share of Federal Deficit
Population x Per Capita Budget Deficit #:
5,209 x 5,654,774 = 29,455, 717, 766

Estimated 2010 U.S. Federal Budget deficit if Wisconsin’s rail award is sent to IL, CA, NY or another state:
$1,600,000,000,000
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The reader then explains...

The Impact on the Federal Budget Deficit of High-Speed Rail in Wisconsin
The Horrifying (and True!) Cost of High-Speed Rail in Wisconsin 

That’s right, Wisconsin. Each of us lead by our brave elected Republican representatives Scott Walker, Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner, Tom Petri, Paul Ryan, Reid Ribble, and Sean Duffy will save the Federal Budget Deficit three dollars if we give back our $810,000,000 of stimulus funds to the US Treasury.

This is according to a joint press release by the WI GOP Congressional delegation that estimates the Federal Budget Deficit to be $1,600,000,000. ($1.6 Trillion)

Each of us is in the United States is currently on the hook for $5,212 of the budget deficit today.
However, if Wisconsinites pull together, and give back our $810,000,000 grant from the Federal Government we can cut that number down to $5,209 for every American.

Trading $810 Million for three dollars for every American is the kind of sacrifice only a person with true conservative Midwestern values could make.

Thank you Scott Walker, et al, for having the courage to promote this thoughtful and truly remarkable plan to send the money back.

I know I will sleep better with the knowledge that my share of the Federal Budget Deficit and every other American’s share will plummet from $5,212 to $5,209 as a result of giving back $810,000,000.

America, after Wisconsin drops this generosity bomb on you we have just one question. What will you do with your $3.00 of deficit relief?

If as our GOP delegation can’t just give our money back, they have suggested that Wisconsin would like to return our train money even if it is used for rail projects in other states like Illinois.

The $8 billion from the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act amounts to a contribution of $1,415 dollars from every Wisconsin resident for rail improvement projects across 30 U.S. states.

Wisconsinites should feel especially encouraged that if we give our money back, and it still gets used for rail projects in other states, our contribution will not drop below $1,415.

Walker-Linked Brainstorm: Increase Regressive Tax, Lower Progressive Taxes

The old tax swap idea, sold as 'reform.'

And Walker has opposed this sort of thing before.

Another flip-flop.

You can see right through Walker.

{Update: Walker shoots down the trial balloon. Keeping that transition on the tracks has been difficult.)

Smoke Signal From Manitowoc About S. S. Badger Fuel Deadline

As I have noted often on this blog, the US EPA has established a 2012 deadline for the S. S. Badger, the last of the Great Lakes coal-fired steamers, to convert to a cleaner fuel.

The Badger also dumps its coal ash overboard, another in a list of environmental issues raised by the ship's power source.

The fire at the coal pile in Manitowoc where the ship docks and obtains some of its fuel for round trip runs during the season to Ludington, MI won't help the company in its effort to resist the no-coal EPA deadline.

That coal pile has been the source of pollution issues at the Manitowoc harbor. Documentation, here.

Journal Sentinel Gives Rep. Tom Petri A Full Flip On Rail

Basically, Petri tells the Journal Sentinel he doesn't believe in anything, is completely malleable and toadies to Jim Sensenbrenner.

Noted earlier, here.

And here.