A visibly angry Mayor Dave Cieslewicz lashed out at incoming Gov. Scott Walker at a news conference Thursday, blaming him for an announcement that federal transportation officials were pulling $810 million in free stimulus money to Wisconsin that could have been used for high-speed rail.
Cieslewicz, joined by Dane County Chair Scott McDonell, Steve Hiniker of 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin and Downtown Madison Inc. President Susan Schmitz, called Walker's decision to campaign on a pledge to kill the high-speed rail project between Milwaukee and Madison a "purely irrational" decision that has led to a "black day for the state."
"He put himself in a ridiculously tight corner during the campaign that he couldn't get himself out of," Cieslewicz said.
The mayor said he repeatedly reached out to Walker to talk over options to keep the project on track.
Cieslewicz said he would have been open to the city contributing to the train's operating cost, an idea he also had discussed with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Barrett, a Democrat and a high-speed rail advocate, was defeated by Walker in the November election. The mayor said he first tried to contact Walker days after Walker was elected. Cieslewicz said his calls and messages were never returned.
"I was met with a blank wall. I was never able to speak with him," the mayor said. "I think it is very telling about a person. He is not getting off to a good start."
McDonell said Dane County also was willing to contribute to the operating cost of the train.
"We were trying to give Walker a way to save face, to give him a way out of this position," McDonell said at the news conference.
"If this is an indication of how he is going to run the state, we are in for a long four years," the mayor said.
Because of the political shift in the state, all but $2 million of the stimulus money is now headed to 13 other states. Wisconsin is able to keep the $2 million for upgrades to the existing Hiawatha Line between Milwaukee and Chicago.
In a prepared statement released Thursday afternoon, Walker said “Wisconsin taxpayers were victorious in defeating this project.”
“The last election showed that Wisconsinites oppose runaway government spending,” the statement read. “The Madison to Milwaukee trail line is dead.”
The news comes two days after hundreds of people packed a transportation meeting at the Crowne Plaza to discuss potential rail routes from Milwaukee to the Twin Cities. While not all the routes went through Madison, most did.
"Our connection to the Twin Cities is now down the drain," Hiniker said.
Cieslewicz added that the day can't come soon enough when Walker can be referred to as "the former governor."
Walker takes office Jan. 3.