High-speed rail just latest casualty of Republican hypocrisy
Dane County Board Chairman and candidate for County Executive Scott McDonell recently brought up an excellent point in an editorial about the high-speed rail debate. The $800 million in federal funds wouldn't go exclusively to passenger trains; they would also go to make much-needed improvements in freight lines.
Fixing these could actually improve our roads and bridges, too, as McDonell points out:
What's often been lost in the debate is that most of the trains on the line won't be carrying people -- they'll be carrying freight. Freight that is currently being carried by trucks. Heavy trucks, trucks that damage and wear down the very roads and bridges he's so concerned about.
Currently, freight trains traveling on the state-owned line between Watertown and Madison have to keep their speed down at 10 mph -- because the system is 60 years old and falling apart. If the stimulus money improvements were made, speeds of 50 to 60 mph would become the norm.
That increased speed would lessen traffic delays at crossings, improve fuel efficiency, and decrease emissions.
Clearly, the debate about trains in Wisconsin isn't just about the number of people who would travel on them (though plenty would). Our rail infrastructure needs improvement, that's not up for debate. What remains to be seen is how we pay for them. According to the Department of Transportation, the state would be on the hook for some $37.4 million for freight lines alone if Walker and his cronies get their way. That brings the total amount of penalty if the rail line is canceled and federal money rejected up to $135 million.
Tell me again how this makes any sense? Other than a dangerous stunt designed to curry favor with misled citizens and a handful of wealthy campaign donors with a vested interest in screwing over rail, I can't think of a good reason.
McDonell's editorial is just another example of yet more sound reasoning as to why we should accept the federal money and dedicate ourselves to the improvement and expansion of our rail lines. It seems like more sound reasoning on the pro side comes up every day, really, and the con side gets a little more torn to shreds.
Unfortunately, it's still going to take a great deal of effort to stop Walker's train killing plans. If there's one thing the GOP is good at, it's stubborn resistance to admitting mistakes. Three Republican Congressmen are even throwing their hats into the wrong-headed fray -- our very own Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, Tom Petri and Paul Ryan.
The trio just introduced legislation that would allow states to "return certain funds made available for high speed rail and intercity rail projects to the general fund of the Treasury for Federal budget deficit reduction."
It's a pretty bald attempt at pandering to their deficit hawk supporters without actually, y'know, doing anything about the deficit.
They themselves admit the unlikeliness of passing the bill during the lame-duck session, hoping merely to reintroduce similar legislation next year -- when it would still be nearly impossible to get it through the Senate, let alone signed by President Obama.
But it will make some of their constituents happy, because it looks like fiscal conservatism. Happily for the congressmen, however, it doesn't require any real work to improve anything for anyone.
It's yet another example of Republicans talking a big game when it comes to deficit reduction, but then taking action that actually increases it (Fun Fact: Out of the last five presidents, it was Carter and Clinton who increased the national debt the least, while both Bushes and Reagan increased it the most).
Keep in mind, this move, if approved, would also pay for just one thousandth of one percent of the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest top two percent of income earners.
Petri's support of this bill is especially funny, considering he supported the high-speed rail plan as recently as August of last year. In a letter he co-signed as a member of the Midwest High Speed Rail Congressional Congress, Petri wrote that, "This investment will strengthen the surrounding Midwest economies through new rail and construction jobs while also increasing development and connectivity from rural to urban areas."
That was back before it was politically expedient to oppose anything that had even a whiff of Democratic support, and to pander as hard as possible to the rising influence of the Tea Party's reactionary bent that threatens the jobs of the old GOP establishment.
I honestly don't know how it could be any more obvious how cracked the political opponents of the rail line and federal money are.
Rally to save the train!
And if you're fed up with all of this, like I am, consider taking action to make your voice heard. The Sierra Club is helping to organize a series of Save the Train rallies across the state this Saturday, Nov. 20, to speak out against Walker's job killing, anti-train rhetoric. In Madison, the rally will be held at noon near the corner of S. Hancock and E. Wilson streets. Find the full list of rallies in other cities right here.
You can also call Walker's transitional phone line at (608)261-9200 to let him know how you feel, and/or contact your local elected representatives (find yours here). There's a Save the Train Facebook group, as well as a couple of petitions to that effect.
It's also worth reading Milwaukee Common Councilman Willie Hines Jr.'s letter to Walker (PDF) regarding the importance of funding mass transit/rail in the state.
Oooh, that was an excellent burn!
As brought to my attention by the illustrious Illusory Tenant -- remember when Walker wrote that letter to the Doyle administration demanding they immediately cease all work on a number of projects Walker deemed distasteful? Like converting the Charter Street power plant to run on biomass? And health care exchanges?
Well the Doyle administration responded in a letter (PDF) that is both entirely reasonable and delightfully, subtly harsh:
Dear Governor-Elect Walker:
I am writing in response to your letter dated November 10th. I am aware that there are those who would attempt to pit incoming and outgoing administrations against each other. As you know, Governor Doyle and this administration have worked hard to avoid this. We will continue to work with you and your team in an orderly and responsible manner.
With respect to the specific items you mention, obviously you have not had the opportunity to be briefed on these items. For example, the health care exchanges you mention will require legislation and will not go into effect until 2013 at the earliest. The Charter Street Plant, on which work has begun, has natural gas capabilities along with the biomass fuel purchased from Wisconsin farmers and foresters.
Our offer to brief you on these and any other measures still stands.
Daniel J. Schooff, Secretary
Wisconsin Department of Administration
It's a great sign when the incoming governor sets out to kill things with which he is not at all familiar, isn't it? < / end bitter sarcasm >