Saturday, November 20, 2010

Keep Your Eye On Walker, Federal Funds For Amtrak Improvements, And Deal-Making

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.

And when not being used for passenger trains, those rails carry freight - - so I could see Walker adopting a business focus to justify trying to keep some of the $800+ million high-speed rail funding while at the same time disassociating himself from high speed rail.

We've seen Walker do this before - - take stimulus funding after attacking the program, or be completely against toll roads but then say a toll lane would be OK  - - so a parsed, position-changing Walker two-step would not be a surprise.

It would work like this:

A) proposing to retain some of the $810 million high-speed rail funding for track improvements to the Empire Builder line for freight customers,  B) accepting funding to improve the highly-successful seven-times-daily Hiawatha line (it serves the business community and others traveling regularly to Chicago from SE Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee Intermodal station was to get some upgrading, too), and C) creating some rail construction and maintenance jobs, and also supporting assembly jobs at Talgo for the two train sets ordered for the beefed-up Hiawatha runs.

And D) using this strategy to change the conservation enough to wiggle out the firestorm he started when high-speed rail planning and spending was stopped at his behest.

Then he could turn back the balance of the funding for deficit reduction, or have his Republican allies in Congress try and reprogram those dollars to the Zoo Intersection ($2+ billion, now unfunded) or other Wisconsin road projects.

That reprogramming is unlikely, but Walker could tell the road-builders and Waukesha County commuters he tried.

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 drive26 miles to Columbus, WI, (no shuttle bus).

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


Anonymous said...

The only worthwhile debate is whether the state or federal government should be funding any part of the $20 million or so that freight rail needs to upgrade and maintain those routes throughout the state.

If I am a Obama stimulus supporter, the answer to that question is easy – yes, grab the cash. If I am a Wisconsin taxpayer who isn’t ideological, the answer is pretty easy – yes, because Doyle wanted to hand the railroads $20 million of state money before the federal stimulus money (for shovel ready projects, jobs and the economy) was even appropriated or envisioned.

If I am a fiscal conservative who hates the idea of having government subsidize the private sector or hand out special favors to an industry – then money for freight rail is a bad idea.

If I am a fiscal conservative that understands how important maintaining the freight rail infrastructure is to jobs and our economy and I am enough of a historian to realize what a mess that “Progressives” have made of freight rail in our state over the last 100 years, then I’d go ahead and support the $20 million in funds and I would call it one of the rare occasions where government made an “investment” in something that actually helps to save jobs. But prior government interference in Wisconsin freight rail, is the only justification for this “investment” today.

The “Progressives/Democrats” did everything they could to take down rail in Wisconsin. Since the early 1900’s, they taxed the hell out of the freight lines to pay for passenger rail.

You are still peddling the same old stuff, but a few of us know that your ideas were obsolete then and as useful as a buggy-whip today.

Anonymous said...

Just wait until Scott Walker announces his first budget proposal. You Progressives will be suffering from the cringing pain of seeing your pet projects and sacred cows being flushed down the Doylet.

The good news for you, Rowen, is that there may not be any money for widening I-94 and re-doing the Zoo interchange.

You will look back at the canceled choo choo as "the good old days."