What’s wrong with Wisconsin…and Ohio?

Posted on December 17, 2010 by Nicole Schlosser

What's bad for Wisconsin and Ohio — high-speed rail, according to the states' new Governors — may end up being very good for many other states. Neighboring Indiana and Illinois, as well as California, Washington, New York, Maine, Missouri and maybe even Florida, are reaping a little extra as the FRA redirects Wisconsin and Ohio's rejected millions intended for the rail systems.

While Wisconsin will still get to keep up to $2 million of the federal funds it was awarded for its Amtrak-Hiawatha line, since Governor elect Scott Walker refused to change his mind about turning down federal high-speed rail funds last week, the FRA took the rest of the $810 million and reapportioned it to more appreciative states.

Ohio's governor elect, John Kasich, of a similar mindset, lost his state $400 million. Despite that, the state's rail advocates remain optimistic. As Ken Prendergast, executive director of rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio, told reporter Lyndsey Teter of Columbus, Ohio's The Other Paper, "I've watched this project die seven times in 26 years...This is the closest we've gotten, and we get a little closer each time." The article adds that advocates are working to form a Joint Powers Authority, which may be able to legally take over the 3C Corridor project - high-speed rail from Columbus to Cincinnati to Cleveland - with permission from the feds.

Many Wisconsinites, though, are not happy. On Monday, protesters gathered in Milwaukee, claiming that Walker drove away 15,000 jobs when he turned down the funds. The protesters are demanding that Walker include Milwaukee job creation in a special emergency jobs session of the legislature next month, on his first day in office.

This is the second protest of the Governor-elect's rejection of the funds in as many months. Last month, labor leaders and politicians rallied at the Milwaukee plant of Spanish train maker Talgo Inc., which will soon leave the state, and called on Walker to drop his opposition of the project. Speakers argued that an improved train system would boost local commerce and help the environment and that the area needs the jobs.

The Mayor of Madison, Dave Cieslewicz, agrees. In a blog post on Thursday, the Mayor discussed Talgo's planned relocation from Milwaukee in 2012, and pointed to the way that Florida Governor elect Rick Scott, also skeptical about rail, handled the situation. "He's willing to listen to different points of view before he just says no. As a result, Talgo is considering relocating jobs that would have gone to Wisconsinites to Florida instead."

So, in the middle of one of the worst times for unemployment in recent memory, these two upper Midwestern states are turning away jobs. The Governors claim that they don't want to saddle state taxpayers with operating costs, but is that concern worth sacrificing jobs and a better transit future now? Do they care that in the long run they may end up being left far behind?


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