Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker promised to get to work right away on job creation.
And he has kept that promise.
Unfortunately, his first initiative is more likely to create jobs in states other than Wisconsin.
Rejecting the visionary approach of Republican leaders such as former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who for years argued that Wisconsin needed to be on the cutting edge of high-speed rail development, Walker has told the federal government that he does not want the state to be part of the emerging national passenger rail network.
Walker is so anti-rail that he is refusing the $810 million allocated by federal officials to create the line that would link Chicago and the Twin Cities with stops in Milwaukee, Madison and other Wisconsin communities.
Walker’s determined refusal to enter the 21st century when it comes to transportation policy has caused state officials to put a halt to the project -- putting construction crews out of work even before he is inaugurated. In addition, the Spanish train manufacturer that recently started operations in Milwaukee has indicated that it may not stay in Wisconsin. And Illinois is making a play for it.
It’s a dark scenario. Jobs have already been lost.
But the picture is not entirely bleak.
Wisconsin’s money will not be wasted. New York officials, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, are jumping at the chance to grab Wisconsin’s $810 million. Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo has formally requested the money.
Cuomo sees the rail initiative as vital to job creation and economic development. Elected officials and business leaders are cheering him on.
“High-speed rail represents the Erie Canal-like vision that can rebuild the upstate economy,” says Congressman Michael Arcuri, who represents upstate New York. “The short-term construction jobs coupled with the long-term benefits of being able to move people quickly and efficiently around the state is a recipe for economic success.”
New York Department of Transportation official Deborah Sturm Rausch says transportation planners are thrilled that Wisconsin is giving up the money. And they’re ready to put it to work. “Everything has a price tag, and the more money we have to support high-speed rail, the more we can do,” Rausch announced last week.
In Utica, a city that like Racine, Kenosha and Beloit has experienced tough times as industries have relocated, Mayor David Roefaro was celebrating the news that Walker didn’t want to use the federal money to develop high-speed rail.
“Absolutely, we’ll take the money because that’s something we desperately need here in upstate New York,” declared Roefaro.
Walker has created quite a stir in economic development circles.
And rightly so.
The federal transportation money is going to be spent somewhere. It is going to create thousands of construction jobs. It may lead to manufacturing jobs, as train builders go where the action is.
And it is going to put a state on the map as an economic engine of the 21st century.
The only problem is that, if Walker persists with his anti-train tantrum, that state won’t be Wisconsin.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. email@example.com