Before Obamacare, before Amtrak and Benghazi, right-wing radio talkers around here and the elected officials they control had light rail to weaponize - - and now they've got The Streetcar.
Though Milwaukee is continuing to its plan a downtown streetcar and build it with accessible, available local and federal funds, Gov. Walker, out-state legislators and ideological allies linked to the Bradley Foundation are determined to derail it by applying legal, regulatory and financing restrictions not used in other transportation programs statewide.
They want one set of rules covering projects they like, such as highway expansion that keeps road-builder and other lobbies satisfied, but they are manipulating the process to apply more selective rules tag-teamed from the Governor's office to his appointees on the Public Service Commission to define what shall be allowed with their blessing to run on local Milwaukee streets.
The lever they have conjured for this iteration of killing the project and over-turning local control: the cost of moving some utilities' property so trolley tracks and electrical connections can be installed.
The Journal Sentinel puts it this way in a Friday editorial in its support for the streetcar and Mayor Barrett's leadership to build it:
Barrett is right to do what he's doing. Rarely have we seen such a blatant challenge to local control as the Legislature's politically charged bill. Gov. Scott Walker should never have signed it...
Streetcar opponents in the Legislature passed a measure last year that would bar utility ratepayers from bearing any costs for the streetcar project — even though this is standard procedure for other projects, including many road projects that these same legislators likely would lobby for if the projects were in their own districts. Their bill was all about killing a Milwaukee project.
So why is Team Walker meddling in this one Milwaukee project?
Let's be honest:
The Milwaukee streetcar and Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, as was former Mayor John Norquist, are being beaten up for political and punitive purposes by conservative, anti-urban interests.
They've been whipped into a perpetual frenzy since the 1990's when right radio fear-mongers discovered that yelling about light rail boosted ratings in the suburbs and drove Republican voters to the polls.
Conservative Republican politicians in Waukesha County and then-Gov. Tommy Thompson continued to block light rail even after Milwaukee officials to whom earmarked federal funds had been assigned agreed that light rail would not touch sovereign Waukesha County soil.
The talkers and their beneficiaries killed Milwaukee light rail - - and are out to do the same for the Milwaukee streetcar even though it would be a boon to the downtown and thus statewide economy - - as billions of dollars in freeway expansion continue to be spent across the region serving exurban malls and subdivisions with Milwaukee tax and utility ratepayers kicking in mandatory shares.
Some history here.