In an ironic twist in Baraboo, Wisconsin on Wednesday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker touted the benefits of rail and their importance to business. Why is this ironic one may ask? Well, this is the same Governor who campaigned on derailing the proposed high-speed train line from Madison to Milwaukee, which would have connected Chicago to Madison via the existing Hiawatha line between Chicago and Milwaukee, while also repairing miles of decrepit freight rail, as well.
Let's do a quick recap: Former Governor Jim Doyle put the ball in Walker's court when he was elected. Doyle chose to allow the Governor-elect to decide the fate of the project when he would take the reigns. Walker campaigned on ending the rail, calling it a "waste of taxpayer money" and a "symbol of excessive spending by the federal government". Walker also complained that the estimated subsidy for the line each year would be somewhere between $1 million and $8million annually. In response, former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz offered to kick in some money towards the cost, and there were several proposals for the federal government to pick up a portion of the bill. Wisconsin could have also used money from other federal transportation grants to fund the subsidy. Either way, the subsidy, even were it the high number of $8 million would have been something like 1% of the overall transportation budget for the state. Nevertheless, Walker did, indeed, kill the project. Luckily, Ray LaHood allowed the state to keep the $9 million it had already spent on projects related to the rail upgrade.
Plenty of Wisconsinites were disappointed, since almost 5000 initial jobs were lost, as well as potentially hundreds of additional jobs from the economic boost the new rail line would provide. (Quick note: Would Walker have allowed the line to proceed, he would have doubled the paltry job gains he has seen in his first 16 months in office to roughly 10,000 jobs. Still pathetic, but we will take what we can get around here.) Since killing the train, the State of Wisconsin has been obligated to buy two trains from Talgo, who relocated to Milwaukee solely because of this project, at a cost of $48.7 million. The State has also paid $2.5 million in spare parts costs, almost $5 million for maintenance of the two purchased trains (annual contract was for 20 years at $5.8 million per year), $7 million on consulting to a foreign firm, $12 million on a temporary maintenance base for Talgo, and $2 million on planning for a new, permanent maintenance base. But here's the real kicker: The $49 million spent on trains was all for nothing. Since the State has refused to pay for a permanent maintenance base at a median cost of $60 million, the trains are unable to be utilized. Ever. So there goes the $49 million, along with the additional $2 million spent on planning and the $12 million already spent on the temporary maintenance base. All of these monies would have been covered by the $800 million-plus grant that Walker turned down. That's not even including the likely legal challenges the state will face in the future from Talgo, since the State is probably guilty of not operating and negotiating in good faith. Terrific. The only way to recoup any of the costs to taxpayers is to sell the two trains. Yeah, good luck with that. Oregon has already declined. Its not like you can put these trains in a warehouse, let em sit a few years until someone needs them, and then sell them. They might as well turn them into a sweet Talgo Train Diner. One for Madison. One for Milwaukee. At least we could make some money of that shit, right? Let me throw one more thing out there. Talgo will now be closing its doors in June of this year since there is no longer any work. The closing of the plant, as well as the scrapping of the maintenance base, will cost Wisconsin nearly another 100 jobs. Follow me below the crooked squiggle thing for the rest of this depressing saga.
So back to the real reason I am writing this. Sorry, I know the recap was long. Anyhow, Walker went to Seneca Foods in Baraboo Wednesday and touted the benefits of rail and its effects on business. From the Baraboo News Republic,
“Rail is not something of the past,” Walker said. “It’s something we can use today not only in this county but in others across our state to ship our products in a cost-effective manner.”Really? Where was this urgency when the federal grant money was on the table? Where was the concern for creating jobs then?
Walker said using rail is not just about transportation: It’s about creating jobs for Wisconsin residents.
Just last month, Walker also vowed to find a way to purchase a rail corridor from Union Pacific for $40 million, plus about $10 million in additional costs. The rail corridor purchase has been proposed before, amid heavy lobbying from Wisconsin and Southern Railroad. The only difference is that last time the purchase would have been part of the federal grant for the high-speed rail project. This time? All Wisconsin taxpayer money baby! Not surprising, Wisconsin and Southern Railroad is not only a contributor to the Governor, but has also made illegal contributions to him. Shocker.
It baffles me that Walker could turn down money from the federal government and call it a waste, all because they apparently didnt want to subsidize, at most, $8 million a year. The roughly $75 million the state has spent thus far, on nothing, could have paid the costs of the train for the next 7 years alone. Again, remember that that is not including any money that Madison, the federal government, or any other outside party would have covered. Thats also not figuring in the lost tax revenue from Talgo, the newly employed from the project, and the new businesses from the project, or the tourism revenue from the project, or the savings in unemployment from the boost in employment because of the project. Its also not figuring in the future costs of the inevitable legal battle with Talgo, the coming layoffs which increases unemployment costs, and the future purchase of the $40 million line desired by Wisconsin and Southern. All in all, the denying of federal aid will cost the state thousands of jobs, as well as $120 million or more dollars.
Yes, it was obviously the grant that was the waste of taxpayer money. Not the two useless trains, maintenance base, etc.