Monday, July 10, 2017

Vos' long transit blockade does not help Racine's Foxconn future

Wisconsin GOP officials have for years blocked a variety of rail lines and transit services that could have helped create jobs, connect them to desperately-needed development and boost our sluggish, low-wage state economy
“We have created a lot of jobs,” said Marquette University economist Abdur Chowdhury. “However, most of these jobs we’ve created are in low-paying, low-skill areas... In the high-skill areas we haven’t seen much creation.”
Those short-sighted GOP politicians' day of reckoning could be approaching just as an historic, high-tech jobs opportunity might be on the SE Wisconsin horizon.

Read on.

*  I noted yesterday how right-wing GOP WI Governor Scott Walker's foolish blockade of an Amtrak extension from SE Wisconsin to Madison and the rest of Midwestern inter-city rail expansion removed development-based rail connections 
which would have fed potential employment for high-tech Foxconn should it build a mega-factory in Racine County:
Right-wing GOP WI Governor and shallow ideologue Scott Walker for the narrowest of partisan and self-serving political motives wiped out the federally-funded Hiawatha Amtrak connection between Madison and Milwaukee and south through Racine County to Chicago.
I also wrote last week that right-wing and fellow Walkerite transit foe GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was using the possible Foxconn project's trucking needs to press Walker to fund a faster completion of I-94 re-construction and expansion through Racine County which is Vos' home base and the heavily-rumored site for the Foxconn factory.

But as I documented Walker's short-sighted blockade of the Amtrak extension, let's also document Vos's one-note opposition to transit which can bring workers more easily to their jobs - - especially if they do not have cars or do not care to spend hours everyday on congested highways or potholed roads on what are rated America's second-worst state roads.

The record shows that:

* Vos got the 2011 legislature to ban regional transit authorities, (RTAs), a move, by the way,  which has effectively blocked the construction of a commuter rail line (the KRM), linking Kenosha, Racine (Vos' home county) and Milwaukee counties, thus denying his own constituents rail services that also were to include an easy transfer to Chicago's METRA commuter service.

The KRM would have been a great selling point to Foxconn: 

'Look - - we can bring workers and contractors and visitors between Milwaukee and Chicago right to your Racine County doorstep!'

 Oh, Vos! Never mind.

Picture of Representative Robin Vos

*  The wipeout of RTA's also made it harder in general  for transit services to be coordinated across County and jurisdictional boundaries, as I noted in 2016 when Vos was ramping up his campaign against transit by proposing (unsuccessfully, but it's a sure tell about his views), the removal of transit funding from the state transportation budget (more dedicated dollars for the road-builders), and making transit compete for regular state financing with other "social services."

...GOP Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, (R-Rochester, Racine County)...tried in the last state budget now that he is Assembly Speaker to further starve transit by removing it altogether from the state transportation fund - - a dream of the road-builders, for sure...considers transit "a social service."
Vos began to make his mark as Wisconsin Public Transit Enemy #1 or #2 ( remember, Walker is in charge) as a mere Assemblyman four years ago when he pushed the State Legislature to war counties from creating Regional Transit Authorities.
So more regional connections were barred and lost to counties, including Milwaukee - - just like what was sacrificed on a grander scale when Walker blocked new rail connections between Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities when he successfully rejected $810 million in federal stimulus funds to add Amtrak services, rail bed upgrades, plus train assembly and maintenance jobs in Milwaukee, too.
*  As I wrote in 2012, after Vos made his move against the RTA's:
Transit has been outright attacked in the region, led by State Rep. Robin Vos, a legislator from Racine County, a SEWRPC County.
Wisconsin legislators, with the full support of the Waukesha County delegations, used the 2011-2013 state budget to wipe out cooperative, cross-jurisdictional Regional Transit Authorities, which affirmed the anti-transit, anti-Milwaukee position taken by Waukesha's County Board when it refused to join such a body that could have more closely aligned services with Milwaukee.
If Foxconn were to build a 10,000-employee factory in Racine County, there would be a need for extensive transit coordination among Racine, Kenosha, Milwaukee counties to help move unprecedented numbers of people in and out of the Racine area.

The very regional transit authorities Vos helped kill are the perfect method for that coordination, and also provide transit options, new development and business opportunities at stations, transfer points and along routes themselves.

It's called common sense, or transit oriented development.

*  But as The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said in a 2013 editorial, Vos helped ban the regional transit authorities and has not followed through on a plan to recreate them: 

In 2011, the state killed the ability of local governments to form regional transit authorities, which could have helped those governments deal with serious challenges to their transit systems. One would have thought that allowing governments to cooperate and consolidate for better service and less cost to taxpayers would have appealed to legislators, especially Republican legislators who often tout the virtues of giving more control and options to local governments.
Not so. Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), now the Assembly's speaker, was a co-sponsor of that bill. He told us at the time that the RTAs then in existence were put together badly and he wanted to repeal them and start over with an honest policy debate. That hasn't happened, and we think the real reason for the move was to nail down the coffin lid on a proposal to build commuter rail connecting Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha....
Transit is not, as Vos and others have argued, a social service. It's an economic development tool that can attract workers and jobs. As such, it should be part of a transportation network that gives workers and families a variety of options for getting around the area. Ideally, it should, along with a strong road network, help connect them not only to jobs, but to shopping, recreational and entertainment venues... 
Regional transportation authorities can help local governments deal with those issues, providing better service at less cost. Those governments should at the very least have that option available to them. Let's have that honest debate in 2014, Mr. Speaker.
But even with the biggest development opportunity in years perhaps a possibility in Vos' district, even with a transportation budget and overall two-year state spending blueprint still not yet written through 2019, and even with Republicans Vos and Walker in key 'leadership' positions controlling a GOP legislature and entire government, don't bet on that debate the newspaper wanted or its implementation taking place now, because in Walker and Vos' Wisconsin, ideology continually trumps common sense.


Anonymous said...

This is an excellent summary. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Jim - This anti-rail development stance goes back a long time - the late 1990s. One of Racine's leading employers, SC Johnson, pushed very, very hard for commuter rail expansion as a way to recruit and retain talent. (Even employed a lobbyist for this purpose)

After repeated snubs from the Legislature, SCJ threw up its hands and established an office in Chicago. Alas, the high-priced talent now lives, works (and pays taxes) in the State of Illinois instead of Wisconsin.