Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Who Pays The Fare Rides The Train

Talk about bad timing. On Monday Governor Scott Walker announced $25.5 million in state grants for freight rail upgrades in Wisconsin. That same day Wisconsin & Southern Railroad's CEO William Gardner was criminally charged with making illegal campaign donations, many of them to Walker's campaign. Over half of the state grants go to – you guessed it – Wisconsin & Southern Railroad.

Walker has been all over the board on rail issues. As a member of the Assembly he voted for Tommy Thompson's 1993 state budget proposal to commit $50 million to kickstart the development of passenger rail from Madison to Milwaukee or Milwaukee to Green Bay. He also supported Thompson’s 1997 state budget plan exempting passenger train projects from the normal state bidding process.

That was before he got religion. And the financial backing of the road builders.

Upon becoming governor he rejects $810 million in federal funds earmarked for a Milwaukee-to-Madison passenger rail project, insisting the money be used for road improvements instead. Then he applies for some of the federal funds he just turned down to make upgrades to Amtrak's Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha line. Sheesh, this train ride is making all of us dizzy.

Now Walker is doling out more than $25 million in new state subsidies for railroad companies, nearly $14 million of which is being steered to the company run by the wealthy donor who is pleading guilty to felony campaign money laundering charges.

Now this train ride is making us sick.


tnttom said...

Thanks WDC for both your excellent writing and reporting of the facts which allows us to "follow the money".

Buzz Davis, WI Impeach/BOTH&Vets4Peace said...

This is an example of pigs at the trough. I put slop in your campaign bucket and you put slop in my trough.
These men rob and steal legally because they are the ones who make the laws. It must stop!! Buzz Davis, Stoughton

Eugene Barufkin said...

This should be a JS op-ed.
Great job Graeme.

Eugene Barufkin said...

This was a Sunday J-S op-ed -
Walker road plan driving him crazy

April 16, 2011

Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget has more than enough pain to go around. Schools get hit with more than $800 million in cuts over the next two years. Recycling programs are not funded. Health care for seniors and the poor are slashed. Local road aids are cut. Some transit systems may not survive the proposed reductions. State revenue sharing is going down, putting more pressure at the local level to cover the costs of cuts to state aids - and without raising property taxes.

It's called austerity.

Unless you happen to be a road builder.

Then this budget is called a bonanza.

While other programs are cut, highway expansion projects totaling more than $400 million get the green light. Highway expansion raids the general fund of more than $140 million, crushing any arguments that "highway users pay for the costs of roads." In fact, the general fund and property taxes will pay about half of roadway costs in the future. So-called user fees are soon to be eclipsed by decidedly nonuser fees.

When you look at the increase in highway spending, it is also important to pay attention to where the money goes. Local road aids are cut, meaning that even though there is more money going for major highway expansion, there is less money for local units of government to fix those bone-jarring potholes that crop up every spring. Maintenance dollars for highways are down as well.

Walker has said that the highway expansion is needed for our economic recovery. The governor is putting a lot of faith - and capital - in having superhighways be the cornerstone of the state's economic recovery. After all, he could have put the money in building better communities with better schools as a basis of economic development.

All of this seems bizarre when you consider that we are driving less than ever. We are in the fifth year of a steady decline in miles driven by each Wisconsin resident. The numbers of miles driven will likely decline even more as the cost of gas continues to climb above $4 a gallon. In fact, it is because we are driving less that the governor is proposing to raid the general fund for highways.

As people drive fewer miles with more fuel-efficient vehicles, they use less gas and the amount collected in gas taxes decreases. So in order to expand highways, non-transportation fund dollars need to be raised. This is why Walker is pushing transit aids out of the transportation fund and is raiding everything from general fund dollars to the environmental fund to pay for bigger roads.

But if people are driving less, why expand highways?

Transportation experts point out the truck traffic on highways is on the increase. If that's the case, then fees on trucks should be assessed at a level consistent with the cost of building and maintaining the highways they need. Heavy trucks cause disproportionate damage to highways and bridges. School systems shouldn't have to pay for the costs of building and maintaining the highways that trucks need. Up to a third of heavy truck traffic contributes nothing to the state's economy as it simply passes through Wisconsin on the way from or to destinations out of state.

Highways are an important component of maintaining a healthy economy in Wisconsin. But so are communities where people live, work and play. The next generation of leaders will be able to choose where they live. They will certainly want to have good schools for their kids. They will want clean air and water. They will want good local roads to drive to and from work and many will want good transit options.

Walker's budget fails to deliver on the most important part of our state's economy and instead cuts essential services to fund a highway expansion scheme.

Steve Hiniker is executive director - 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.
"The appearance of right oft leads us wrong.". . Horace - 65 BC - 8 BC

Anonymous said...

We taxpayers in WI will pay for the railroad upgrade between Madison and Watertown that a Federal grant would have taken care of for us ... except... Governor Walker gave that money, and more, back to the Feds so the Milwaukee to Madison rail passenger project would be killed. We are paying for the Republican party's handouts to WI businesses.

Mike McCabe said...

Update: The feds turned down Walker's funding request for the Hiawatha line.