BUDGET ADDRESS (copy)

Gov. Tony Evers during the state budget address at the state Capitol in Madison, on Feb. 28, 2019.

It's amusing to read the Milwaukee-based right-wingers often make fools of themselves while straining themselves to spin the news to fit their ideologies.

James Wigderson, who took over Charlie Sykes' old blog "Right Wisconsin" after once right-winger Sykes left to reinvent himself as a quasi-liberal talking head on MSNBC, is a prime example. He recently tried to contend that former Gov. Scott Walker saved Wisconsin from a California-like fate when he refused to take federal stimulus funds to expand passenger rail from Milwaukee to Madison.

Aside from it being one of Walker's dumbest moves among the many he made during his eight years in office, for Wigderson to compare the Wisconsin project to the enormously complicated California high-speed plan is absurd.

California's new Gov. Gavin Newsom stopped the $38 billion project after taking office in January, claiming it was costing too much and taking too long. The completed passenger-rail-only line was to connect San Francisco with Los Angeles and other parts of southern California, but it ran into land acquisition problems, unexpected lawsuits and the costs of tunneling through the Tehachapi Mountains became more expensive than expected. The line is about half done and Newsom has pledged the rest will go still forward, but perhaps on a smaller scale.

Wigderson jumped on this development, claiming that Walker saved us from a similar fate, ignoring the fact that the rail beds were already there (still are) and the entire project, which included improving the tracks between Chicago and Milwaukee, upgrading existing freight tracks between Milwaukee and Madison, updating passenger platforms in Milwaukee's railroad station to accommodate the handicapped and building a station in Madison, could have all been done for about $810 million.

Plus, former Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett had convinced the French train builder, Talgo, to open a Milwaukee plant and produce two train sets for the expanded service and two more for an order from the Cascade Amtrak service between Portland and Seattle. Talgo was to employ Milwaukee workers.

Rather than save Wisconsin taxpayers money, Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature that stood by cheer leading cost those taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. The Talgo plant was closed, the state still had to pay for the two train sets, and it had to make improvements on the existing Milwaukee to Chicago tracks, plus upgrade the Milwaukee station and other structures along the route with state money instead. Such a deal from these supposedly fiscally conscious conservatives, not to mention the loss of jobs at the Talgo plant and construction jobs upgrading the rails.

And today Wisconsin remains a backwater in offering travelers the option of passenger rail, something that today's young people say they consider when relocating.

Not to be outdone by Wigderson, there's the MacIver Institute, which fancies itself a "conservative" think tank — but it's really a campaign arm for anything Republican. It runs what it calls the MacIver News Service, ostensibly a fact-based news service with regular contributions by "investigative reporter" M.D. Kittle, who is sort of what Sean Hannity is to Fox News — big on bluster, short on facts.

Here's the opening of a recent story he wrote:

"If there had ever been any question whether Gov. Tony Evers' Big Labor allies would be directing policy, that question has been settled early and often. The latest example — the governor's press conference last week announcing his executive order creating a task force to examine payroll fraud and worker misclassification. The Democrat was surrounded by Wisconsin union leaders, many of whom gave generously to the Evers campaign."

Really, M.D.? That's a surprise?

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Perhaps instead, he should have surrounded himself with the high-powered lobbyists for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the kingpins of the Wisconsin Realtors Association or the corporate bigwigs who stood by Walker whenever he signed a bill or made an announcement that repaid the money they had invested in him.

At least labor (there is no such thing as big labor anymore) represent the interests of working men and women, not the fortunes of CEOs and wealthy stockholders who want to tilt the playing field in their favor.

Thankfully, we now have a governor who believes in fairness.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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