Laughter sounds strained as rail funds depart
$810 million, economic benefits headed to other states
Dec. 14, 2010 Eugene Kane
Did you hear the one about Scott Walker and the train?
“It looks like Scott Walker is making good on his campaign promise. He’s not even in office yet and he’s created thousands of new jobs.
“In Florida, in California, in Illinois . . .”
Or, there’s this one:
“Scott Walker’s new slogan for the state is ‘Wisconsin is Open for Business.’ Of course, you have to go by horseback.”
However, the biggest joke might be on state residents who were expecting jobs or any other economic benefit from the construction of new high-speed rail lines in Wisconsin. Some of them are definitely not amused.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it was pulling most of an $810 million grant to Wisconsin and sending the money to other states instead.
The move came after Walker made it clear he wouldn’t accept the money for rail but attempted to persuade federal officials to let him use it for other purposes not allowed under federal restrictions.
That must have gotten a big laugh at the White House. The official response from the Obama administration came last week: “You don’t want it? Fine; we’ll give it someone who does.”
That’s a pretty in-your-face move for a government agency in charge of doling out billions of tax dollars on a regular basis.
It actually seemed more like a parent teaching an ungrateful child a lesson about not expressing appropriate gratitude for a gift.
The announcement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood suggested annoyance with having to persuade some politicians to accept millions in federal funding intended to establish an improved transportation network that would connect several states with an eye toward future economic development.
Walker’s not alone in losing big money for his state; Ohio’s governor-elect, John Kasich, also took a firm stance against rail money that will now go elsewhere.
(Perhaps these two can have a good laugh about it at the next governor’s convention.)
The Los Angeles Times newspaper got off a good line at our expense in a recent editorial that praised the Golden State’s windfall due to the shortsightedness of Midwestern political leaders.
“Scott Walker, Republican governor-elect of Wisconsin, fretted that his state’s train would cost $7.5 million a year to operate,” said the L.A. Times editorial. “This is sort of like turning down a free car because you don’t want to have to pay for gasoline and insurance.”
The jokes will likely keep on coming, particularly if the economy doesn’t improve and Wisconsinites continue to suffer from a lack of jobs and a lack of vision by leaders who seek to save money by declining progress and opportunity.
During his campaign for governor, some members of Walker’s staff had fun on Twitter by posting a video clip of a group of African-American dancers performing the “Soul Train” line from the old TV dance show. The tweet was sent out the same day President Barack Obama was in Milwaukee, which made the message appear racially insensitive to some.
It also sent a clear message Walker was willing to fight against rail at whatever cost. Well, the price tag has arrived.
It’s $800 million that won’t be coming back to Wisconsin, and there’s nothing funny about that at all.
Contact Eugene Kane at (414) 223-5521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.