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Plain Talk: Watching Walker court state's road builders

Plain Talk: Watching Walker court state's road builders

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The Democratic advocacy group known as One Wisconsin Now has been chiding GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker for being a hypocrite by speaking to and lobbying Wisconsin road builders for campaign help at their recent convention in Florida.

Walker has been an outspoken foe of federal stimulus money to ease the pain of the Great Recession and as county executive of Milwaukee County he’s turned down money for projects in his cash-strapped county, sort of like what Sarah Palin claims to have done when she was still governor of Alaska.

Taking federal aid only pushes back the day of reckoning for unbalanced budgets, Walker argues.

But the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, as the road builders are now known, has been a big fan of federal stimulus dollars. Those funds have served to put thousands of construction workers on the job throughout the state and, of course, helped road building contractors stay in business.

One Wisconsin Now points out, for example, that two major projects are taking place in Milwaukee County -- the rebuilding of the Wisconsin Avenue and Juneau Avenue bridges. The feds are paying $21.5 million of the total $29.2 million cost.

The road builders have praised the Recovery Act for giving Wisconsin’s economy a much-needed push. It’s hard to figure why Walker would eschew the opportunity to fix infrastructure that will have to be fixed someday anyhow -- unless we’re waiting for another Minneapolis-like bridge collapse.

It will be interesting to see how the road builders react to Walker’s plea for campaign help when they’re so at odds with his view on stimulus funding. The association routinely is a big campaign donor in Wisconsin elections. It distributed nearly $900,000 to various candidates in 2008 and is likely to be a major player this year in the race for governor, which is likely to pit Walker against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Barrett, of course, has been a big fan of the federal stimulus funds and has accepted millions on behalf of his city.

So it’s understandable why Walker traipsed down to Florida to pursue campaign funds.

And that leads to another puzzle. How come the Wisconsin road builders meet in Florida?

As one of my readers, Mike Bondarenko of Baldwin, asked in an e-mail, why is it that “the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, whose members have received billions of Wisconsin taxpayer dollars and no doubt made handsome profits off the people of Wisconsin, holds its annual convention in Orlando?”

“I can think of a lot of nice resorts and hotels in Wisconsin that could accommodate their convention and I am sure the resorts and hotels would appreciate the business in the dead of winter,” he added. “At least they could give us back a few of those tax dollars!”

Darn good points. Apparently Wisconsin’s winter weather isn’t the road builders’ cup of tea. But, as Mike points out, it would be nice if they spent their money with the folks who support them all year around.