Our view: Western Wisconsin cheated again

Our view: Western Wisconsin cheated again

Editorial

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Gov. Scott Walker's decision to reject $810 million in federal funding for high-speed rail is turning in to the gift that keeps on giving for everyone but the residents of our part of the state.

Worse, it's costing all taxpayers in Wisconsin more than it needs to - millions and millions of dollars more, according to one analysis.

And western Wisconsin won't get so much as a train whistle out of the deal.

Earlier this week, a legislative committee in Madison agreed to spend $31.6 million on the Hiawatha rail line between Chicago and Milwaukee. The Hiawatha line makes the trip seven times daily and carried nearly 800,000 passengers last year.

Oh, did we mention that work on the Hiawatha line would have been funded as part of the $810 million grant from the federal government because it was an extension of the now-deceased high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison?

So, let's review: Wisconsin gives back $810 million. It won't receive high-speed rail. And, as a bonus, we agree to spend $31.6 million out of our pockets - much of it borrowed - for work that the feds would have funded.

But wait, there's more:

There's also the ongoing operating costs as well as the need to pay for maintenance bases and train sheds and locomotives and signals, according to an analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Added up, the analysis shows that the federal grant could have paid for up to $99 million that Wisconsin taxpayers will now have to fund.

All of that is incredible when you consider that the Walker administration objected to high-speed rail through Wisconsin because of the ongoing costs.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, called it "Walker math," and it certainly doesn't add up in our favor.

Of course, Walker's aides and his legislators disagree with the math and say the high-speed rail proposal would have had much higher ongoing costs for the state.

Cullen Werwie, the governor's spokesman, called the move "action to pay another one of Gov. Doyle's bills."

Add up the math however you wish: The folks who pay taxes in western Wisconsin get to pay even more tax money to receive zero added rail service to our part of the state.

We've consistently criticized the governor for rejecting the funding because we felt it a short-sighted decision when there were longer-term economic benefits at stake - particularly for our part of the state, which would be next in line for a rail upgrade. Our local business community was in solid support of the proposal. The funds could not be used for anything else. It was a rare moment for Wisconsin to move up from being near the caboose in the federal funding line.

Yes, we understand that southeast Wisconsin has much higher population.

We don't have a Zoo Interchange - the busiest in Wisconsin, requiring hundreds of millions in redesign and reconstruction.

Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb visited the Tribune's editorial board a couple of weeks ago, and he assured us that western Wisconsin is receiving a healthy share of state funding for road projects.

But, Walker's decision to return $810 million to the federal government while devoting millions of state funds for some of the same rail work might as well be a train to nowhere for the people of western Wisconsin.

Once more, Gov. Walker has told western Wisconsin to take a long walk.

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