“A monumental blunder”
MADISON – Sen. Spencer Coggs said last week that Gov.-elect Scott Walker’s short-sighted decision to reject federal funding for a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison hamstrings Wisconsin’s efforts to build an economy for the future and may very well isolate the state from regional development.
Last Thursday, U.S. Transportation Department officials announced that the federal government is taking back Wisconsin’s $810 million for high-speed rail and sending it to other states after Walker rejected the proposed rail line in Wisconsin.
“This is a monumental blunder for a Republican administration promising to spur the economy and create jobs in Wisconsin,” Sen. Coggs said. “There are so many ways in which Wisconsin loses that it could be sung to a sad rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas.”
This week the state Department of Transportation has been conducting hearings across the state on the proposed Midwest High Speed Rail Network, a network that proposed to link Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minnesota ’s Twin Cities through high-speed rail. The loss of the Chicago to Milwaukee link puts into question whether Wisconsin will be included in the network.
“This perhaps is the greatest blow to Wisconsin ’s economy,” Sen. Coggs said. “I fear that Scott Walker’s decision to kill high-speed rail between Milwaukee and Madison will take Wisconsin off the map for future regional transportation development.
“And nearly all experts on development agree – even Republicans – that the economies of the future will be built on regional development,” Sen. Coggs said.
Closer to home, Coggs lamented the announcement by Talgo, the train manufacturing company, that it may close its plant in Milwaukee in 2012. The company has occupied the former Tower Automotive site in Coggs’ state Senate district creating 125 family-supporting jobs and an estimated 450 indirect jobs through vendors in the Midwest .
“The high-speed rail project was already planting the anticipated seeds of regional economic development. Now, those seeds of hope have died in the frozen soil of doubt and fear,” Sen. Coggs said.
Many other legislators also weighed in on the devastating news that Wisconsin will not be a part of the national program of high-speed rail. Congresswoman Gwen Moore made the following statement regarding the news:
“A month before he’s even been sworn into to office, Governor-elect Walker has lost good jobs for Wisconsinites. He’s denied our state an opportunity to be part of a new, nationwide transportation system that would have brought economic benefits along with it.
“Instead of graciously accepting a return of our hardearned tax dollars, Governor- elect Walker’s hard-lined position is sending them somewhere else to create jobs.
“I hope to be proven wrong, but I think this will build a fence around Wisconsin. We’ll be forced to watch economic development in Illinois and in Minnesota as both states continue a commitment to a rail a line that connects Chicago and the Twin Cities. And it’s a gift we’ll have handed them.”
State Representative Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) expressed frustration and outrage over Wisconsin’s loss of high speed rail funding.
“This is nothing short of economic suicide,” said Rep. Grigsby. “Before even measuring the curtains for his future office, Governor-elect Walker pulled the trigger on killing this project, putting an end to good jobs for the citizens he will soon represent. Now, Wisconsin is left only with questions as to how Republicans intend to pay back money already spent and what plans they have to keep jobs already created here in Wisconsin.”
Due to the demise of the state’s high speed rail investment, Wisconsin will have to return to the federal government rail funding that has already been spent. Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that, in addition to returning the $810 million high speed rail grant, the state will also need to repay up to $134 million.
“How can Republicans claim Wisconsin is ‘open for business’ when they just slammed the door in its face?” Grigsby questioned. “What plans does our next governor have to keep industries like the train manufacturer Talgo in our state and how can Republicans claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility when they just added up to $134 million to Wisconsin’s structural deficit? The people of Wisconsin deserve answers as much as they deserve the jobs that Republicans just killed.”
State Senator Lena Taylor released an updated statement this week regarding the state’s contract obligation despite the monies being redirected:
The loss of federal monies appropriated to Wisconsin for high-speed rail jobs & investment has prompted Senator Lena C. Taylor (D-Milwaukee), a member of the Joint Finance Committee, to call for specific planning on contractual obligations from the incoming Walker administration.
“Today I joined with Joint Finance Co-chairs Miller and Pocan, to call on Gov-Elect Walker to issue a plan immediately to the Joint Finance Committee and the public on his plan to repay these obligations stemming from the high-speed rail project. The Fiscal Bureau expects these obligations could reach over 100 million dollars. I would expect that Walker’s plan would not cut vital programs and services to the citizens of the state to satisfy Scott Walker’s first incurring of debt in Wisconsin.” Taylor said.
Taylor noted that the decisions add the contractual obligations to the structural deficit of the state. Either Walker will have to raise taxes or make cuts to other Wisconsin programs to pay for the obligations, unless the administration decides to continue running a structural deficit.
“Either way you cut this one, the Gov-Elect’s political position on the project will lead to more spending in Wisconsin in ways that did not need to happen,” Taylor concluded. “It is unlikely that he will raise taxes, so Wisconsin deserves a plan to show what tax money will be diverted to pay for a project that we will receive nothing for. Wisconsin should expect this to be outlined and made public before the beginning of the year.”
The proposed high-speed rail line would have serviced the citizens of Milwaukee and Madison with stops in between and high-speed service into Chicago and future expansion to Minneapolis. Passenger cars for the project were contracted to be built by Talgo, Inc. in Milwaukee and provide jobs for the local community. Because of Walker’s unilateral decisions more than 5000 jobs will not be created and retained in Wisconsin.