MADISON – Getting inside Scott Walker’s head…
“The ink is barely dry on the Election Day ballots, I’m nearly two months away from being sworn into office as governor, but it’s seems everyone in Wisconsin has an opinion on what I should do about The Train. And they all want to know now.
“Maybe I wasn’t clear during the campaign – despite the fact I put up a website with the URL of www.notrain.com. Simply put, I don’t think Wisconsin people are going to crawl out of their cars and ride a train from Madison to Chicago.
“Sure, the train between Milwaukee and Chicago is full, but that’s different. This would be a line that runs from Madison through Milwaukee and then down to Chicago. At 80 miles per hour, the average speed of this so-called high-speed train, people can drive to the Loop and be there waving at the train when it pulls into the station.
“I know the arguments for it: It’s the first step toward someday connecting Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison with the Twin Cities, and it would establish stops in western Wisconsin. I know a lot of the business community in La Crosse and the Chippewa Valley like that idea.
“I also get the fact that The Train has some economic development potential, beyond short-term construction jobs, especially for those places where the train stops. I also understand the improvements to the rail line itself will help freight carriers at least as much as the passenger trains.
“But I really don’t like the fact that the Obama administration has decided to “give” $810 million to Wisconsin to build this portion of the line – and asked our taxpayers to cough up the operating subsidy. Even if you believe it’s ‘only’ $7 million a year (and I’m not sure I do), that’s today’s dollars. As the years roll on, that subsidy could balloon to $20 million or more. That’s real money, even at the rate the Department of Transportation spends it.
“I also don’t like the fact the Doyle folks rushed to sign a bunch of contracts – and then feigned surprise when I was elected about my opposition to The Train. Again, I don’t think I was kidding about this.
“All that said, it’s not as if I enjoy saying ‘no’ to federal dollars heading our way every once in a while. As everyone knows, Wisconsin usually winds up among the bottom 10 states when it comes to federal aid. My first choice is to ask the feds to repurpose this money for highways and bridge repairs, where there’s a tremendous backlog of projects that could help the Wisconsin economy as much or more.
“But Ray LaHood and the gang keep insisting that’s not possible. Then again, that’s what I would expect him to say – he’s Obama’s Transportation Secretary.
“But even Tom Petri, the Wisconsin congressman who serves on the House Transportation committee, thinks it’s pretty unlikely we can convert that $810 million to highway dough. I wonder if John Mica, the Florida House member and rail fan who’s in line to chair that committee, thinks the same way. We’ll check that out.
“Also, since the feds are so locked into high-speed rail, maybe I should ask them to up the ante. Perhaps they would come up with the $7 million to subsidize operations. I doubt it, but that’s also worth investigating.
“Let’s face it: The best way to get off to a bad start is to backpedal on a promise. Then again, I’m not willing to be painted into a corner just because the Doyle and Obama administration want a final decision now. That’s another good way to get off on the wrong foot.
“I’ve got a transition team in the works and both houses of the Legislature have turned Republican. We can afford to take our time, check out the unanswered questions and begin to make the hard choices that go hand-in-hand with governing. That’s a train I will be sure not to miss.”
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.