Scott Walker's New, Phony Argument Against Milwaukee Rail
I attended the debate Tuesday afternoon at Marquette University Law School on transit policy between Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, and much of the discussion was about how to allocate $91.5 million in federal transportation funds.
I can't wait for the tape and podcast to be posted, so people can see and hear that Walker's credibility on these important transit issues is paper-thin, and I'm being generous with that.
Walker wants all the millions for new buses and bus services: Barrett has offered a compromise, rejected by Walker, that would divide the money 50-50 between bus services and a downtown streetcar loop.
Compromise? Walker says no, but to justify an untenable political position, has come up with a 'reason':
He claims that a streetcar line would remove $3 million annually in fares from bus riders switching to the streetcars - - a canard, a phony argument, if you ask me, because it assumes that the rail system would attract no new riders, let alone riders who would transfer on and off the rail system using connecting buses.
Here's the unvarnished truth:
Walker has opposed any rail transit for Milwaukee since he was a state legislator in the 1990's - - long before this 'issue' of $3 million was invented.
Years ago, Walker promised his handlers on local right-wing talk radio programs that he would stand rigid with them against rail - - in an anti-urban stance that earned him the nickname "Scott Waukesha."
Walker told The Milwaukee Journal in a 1999 story that it would be OK with him if multiple, major transportation projects in a package that might include Milwaukee rail had to die together to keep light rail from being built.
No wonder the County bus system under Walker's leadership is in a fare-increase/service-cut death spiral.
That transportation package did not produce urban rail of any kind, thanks to the stonewalling by Walker and his talk radio lieutenants - - but did lead to the rebuilding of the Sixth St. Bridge, the removal of the Park East Freeway spur, the construction of the Lakeshore State Park just off the Summerfest grounds, and the provision of seed money that jump-started the Marquette Interchange project.
Here is the story, and the key quote is:
"Building a limited light rail system could cost as much as $180 million. Diehard light-rail opponents, such as Waukesha County Executive Daniel Finley and state Rep. Scott Walker (R-Wauwatosa), immediately objected to spending any of the money on a rail transit system. Walker said he would be willing to sacrifice everything else in the package to stop light rail, because he fears the system would be expanded at taxpayers' expense."
So let's spare the public of a faux concern over a $3 million shortfall which may or may not exist, and could be filled-in if it emerged.
Walker's opposition to light rail or streetcars is 100% political, partisan, ideological and irrational, and has absolutely nothing to do with $3 million, or three actual cents.
And if that transit system stopgap money were actually needed, and located, I'd bet you $3 million that Walker would be back the next day with another excuse.
The righty talkers Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling would demand nothing less, and Walker would supply it.
That's because he owes them his existence as Milwaukee County Executive, and will need their support in his 2010 gubernatorial run that is already unofficially underway.
And don't forget - - the talkers need the light rail issue to gin up listeners in the suburbs for ratings, and the advertising dollars that follow.
The same way campaign contributions can flow to a candidate who can demagogue on light rail.
All in all, it's a sick synergy, and it's killing Milwaukee.
Yes, yes it is.
I don't know whether light rail is the right thing or not. But I do know that if campaign cash were not changing hands we'd likely appoint a nonpartisan board to reach a conclusion and submit it to the politicians.
But cash from special interests are distorting the right decision.
I was at the debate, too and was profoundly disappointed. Walker's opposition is entirely "ideological," as Mayor Barrett said.
I believe Michael Cudahy spoke for the majority of the audience when he told me, "I think this was the dumbest hour I ever spent in my life."
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