In the past two weeks, something remarkable has happened. The media has coordinated an out-and-out blitz on Governor-elect Scott Walker for his opposition against high speed rail. Instead of putting taxpayers on the hook for a train they may never ride, Walker vowed to stop it in its tracks.
But the local media is making high speed rail the quintessence of economic development. They've deployed a broad array of arguments from "if we don't take it, other states will" to "if we don't use it, we'll have to repay $100 million". Although both claims have been refuted by columnist Patrick McIlheran from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, they keep popping up.
Eugene Kane, an opinion columnist, claimed that Republicans need a civics lesson on how laws are passed in Congress. He claimed Walker had finally realized that the redirection rail funds to pay for roads weren't possible due to federal restrictions.
Yet I wonder why Kane thinks federal restrictions are so immutable? If that were true, then why are politicians all over the country jockeying to renegotiate Wisconsin's terms with the federal government? Two California Senators have petitioned Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to redirect Wisconsin's high speed rail grant to California. New York and Illinois have also clamored to get Wisconsin's share of the High Speed Rail stimulus. Perhaps all California, New York and Illinois really need is someone like Eugene Kane to wise them up on the scope and nature of Congressional law.
Like McIlheran said in his column, "what one Congress declares, another may correct". And that is the lesson here. Federal restrictions are not immovable, and what Kane should remember is that Walker has an uncanny ability to deliver on promises previously thought impossible.
Currently, there is a hard push by liberals to pressure Governor-elect Walker to relent on high speed rail. Leftist organizations like the AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club are staging protests across the state proclaiming that the train would save jobs. But Wisconsin lost nearly 10,000 private sector jobs in September alone, and yet we don't remember the protesting about these jobs.
Where was the AFL-CIO or the Sierra Club when Sanford closed a Janesville plant terminating 140 jobs? Where were they when Chrysler closed down their plant losing 600 jobs? Are they going to protest Aurora cutting 175 jobs? My memory might be foggy, but I don't remember anyone protesting Governor Doyle for not saving these jobs. And yet, we are about to see the left make a big spectacle over a federal program that will create just 50 permanent jobs in Wisconsin.
The fact that high speed rail will create jobs is not disputed. Any project where the federal government deposits a billion dollars into the local economy will create jobs and stimulate economic growth. But job creation to the tune of $7 to $20 million a year isn't the most attractive form of job creation, especially when there are better ways to promote commerce.
Walker's plan to redirect funding to roads is more economic since roads and highways are vital to commerce. Rail, on the other hand, is an outdated inflexible mode of travel where the destinations are limited to train stations. And paying $66 round trip might be a feasible choice if one didn't also have to shoulder the costs of a taxi cab.
Instead of laying tracks and building elaborate train sets, why not widen our freeways and create less congestion from Milwaukee to Madison? Why not use a billion in stimulus money to create a separate bus lane and a new fleet of buses equipped with wireless Internet?
Just a few days ago, chunks of concrete fell off the Bluemound Road overpass landing on U.S. 45; it happened in the middle of rush-hour traffic. We must refocus our efforts on roads, the arteries of U.S. commerce. We have yet to come to the point where Dr. Emmett Brown looks at Marty McFly and says, "Where we're going, we don't need roads". I'm with Governor-elect Walker on this one, high speed rail is not the best investment for Wisconsin when 99% of us still travel by roads.