Millions yanked away from a Wisconsin fool by a man with a spine: Ray LaHood

Image from lupinoduck of flickr

High-speed rail money “taken”? Removed as an act of “political retribution”?  Some say tomato and others, tomaaato. I offer one more verb: “yanked”. Progressives, it is a different day, same shit. Your opposition makes things up. Thusly, why not “yanked”? And yanked by a man showing some spine. My tweet last Friday:

@bluecheddar1 Note to the Obama Administration: pay attention to the spine implant over at the DOT @RayLaHood http://ow.ly/3mQmt #hsr

Let’s recap quickly: Mr. Walker campaigned trash-talking the high-speed rail project. He rolled out of bed every day muttering “boondoggle”.  And he believed – or lied – that he was an alchemist who could turn a federal grant for a train into 1 for roads.

Showing diplomatic flare, Walker gave the I-kill-trains press conference 1 day after election. Moderates figured out this guy is 100% bat-smack f’real (I guess that’s what Doyle saw, too) and a “Save the Train” movement kicked up.

In November, Madison’s Mayor Dave waited for Mr. Walker’s schedule to open up. Seeing Mr. Walker too busy to call back, by December 7th, Mayor Dave got in front of his own cameras to tell Walker to serve the entire state, not just talk radio buddies. Over 650 people stopped by, too! [Not all but most showing support for the train.] We also saw the biz  community shuffle forward and everrrr so slowly break out into a full run to catch that train money. But too late. Trains run on time[federal grants have deadlines.] During this time, Walker stuck to his talking point: The train is dead.

You may recall that unemployment in America is close to 9.8% officially, 17% unofficially.

That $810 million in recovery money was getting dusty while people need jobs. Why not give people the gift of jobs somewhere else in America? Maybe somewhere where they’ll just use it for its intended purpose without argument!

Thus the money was prudently “yanked” by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

And as for Republican voters in Wisconsin? You’ve been bamboozled by Walker. And sadly, the whole population got screwed.

[Don’t like my verbs? Comment. ]

Clock runs out on Wisconsin high-speed rail money.

[When done reading, stop here & joing today’s open rant]

Just this morning I learned that Gary Grunau was pulling together Milwaukee businesses to fight for Wisconsin’s train by December 15th. I thought, “About time!”

Apparently “about time” was not in time. Today first an AP leak came out and then the formal announcement: Wisconsin’s and Ohio’s combined 1.2 billion dollars in high-speed rail money would be doled out to 13 states.

A tiny bit of good news: the federal government is not demanding that Wisconsin pay back the money used to plan this project. However, Wisconsin was also to get money to upgrade rail that currently slows down freight to 10 miles per hour between Milwaukee to Madison. And previously we had $82 million in the project to upgrade the Hiawatha line Chicago to Milwaukee. Now we are left with a sliver of that sum: $2 million.

For others, our Red State Gov-Elect’s stubborn position yields riches. Ray LaHood, our nation’s DOT Secretary, said on his blog, “Because Wisconsin and Ohio are not moving forward on high-speed rail projects, more money is available for other states…” While the governors of California, New York, and Illinois were most publicly clamoring for Wisconsin’s rail money, demand for it came from all quarters:

“For that first $8 billion investment, we received more than $55 billion in requests. We were similarly oversubscribed for the second round of awards–we received $8.8 billion worth of requests for only $2.4 billion in available funding.”

Ironically, just as Wisconsin has come to a halt on its passenger rail plans, Minnesota is otherwise perfectly poised to move forward. Their new pro-high-speed rail Governor-Elect Dayton just won by 9,000 votes in a recount. Minnesota DOT officials informed about 650 people in a packed ballroom Tuesday night in Madison that the intercity passenger rail plans favor connection of the largest population centers. But now that Wisconsin is out of the picture, will Minnesota and DOT push for a passenger line to run from Chicago to Dubuque and then North to Minneapolis – right around Wisconsin?

A sensible answer might be: “No. Minnesota and the federal government will wait until a more transit-friendly governor is elected in Wisconsin”. But in these times, it might make a perfect statement and a taunt for generations to install millions of dollars of business and infrastructure just out of reach but always within view of the Wisconsin border.

More:

Political impact in 2012 to Obama is a positive, not a negative according to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “You can ask governors-elect whether they decided not to put people in their own state to work just because Barack Obama proposed it as a project,” he said. “My hunch is that there are people sitting around their kitchen tables in Ohio and Wisconsin who are wondering why they’re not at work because [of] a partisan political food-fight by a governor-elect.”

Ohio’s current governor Ted Strickland says “Today is one of the saddest days during my four years as governor,”

Steve Vance shows how 1.2 billion will be distributed to 13 states.

Looking back a bit:

The relocation of Madison station to downtown from airport actually increased projected ridership by about 30%.

Here’s that Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article that buried the November 20th news about 6 statewide “Save the Train” rallies below a sea of numbers [something I found galling].

6 rallies in Wisconsin for high speed rail [AKA intercity rail]

It’s a pretty amazing day. Six rallies in Wisconsin to support the Wisconsin passenger rail project that Scott Walker wants to reject. They are in Madison, Milwaukee, La Crosse, Watertown, Oshkosh, and Eau Claire and all at NOON. I’ll be going to Watertown, where there is/was a station for the planned route and Mayor Ron Krueger is speaking. More info is HERE on facebook or at the Sierra Club website.

Before I go – I’ll look at answering the anti-rail “choo choo” crowd’s jeers, I mean, “questions”.

Speed?: Illuminating radio personality Vicki McKenna said the service would go at “cow speed” in a recent tweet.  Facts: The train will operate at 79 mph initially when installed in 2013. By December 2015, speeds increase – 90‐110 mph between Milwaukee‐Watertown and 110 mph between Watertown‐Madison.

True “high speed” is about 150 mph. In a national master plan, a high speed rail runs Chicago to Minneapolis in the future –  building off of this line.

Too expensive to maintain? Scott Walker, Governor as of January 3rd, 2011, says that the train will be a wasteful “boondoggle” and too expensive to maintain.

I turn to James Rowen’s blog “The Political Environment” and a piece called “Did WISDOT analyse the costs and benefits of the Madison-Milwaukee Rail Line – and its termination?” He reminds us that 100% of the construction – or $810 million – comes from the federal stimulus plan. And, 90% of the yearly maintenance is covered by the federal gov’t as well. Leaving us with $750,000 to cover. This figure, I recall, is 0.03% of our yearly DOT budget.

On paying for that $750,000- Rowen says, it’s covered. And I agree: “The train was to produce more than 4,700 construction jobs through 2013 and create at least 55 full-time operator and other jobs just in this Wisconsin piece of a Midwestern network,  – – so my question is, did the state figure out what the projected state income tax payments would be on worker and contractor salaries, for example, and also the projected sales taxes on materials purchased for the line’s construction?”

If we build it, will they come?: You’ll see this comment from critics-“Nobody will ride the train” There’s statistical analysis done by DOT using the same models they use for any traffic that show 300,000 people will ride the train per year Milwaukee to Madison, and of course more when it goes to Minneapolis[Note-A commenter left a note that explains why 300,000 is a very conservative number]. But I know a lot of people can’t trust stats. Robbie Webber does a nice write up on that in her rail myth-busting piece. Just an excerpt:

I think the naysayers would be very surprised how many people commute between Madison and Milwaukee every day for work. Or somewhere in between like Watertown or Delafield. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to who either do this commute themselves, or work with someone that does the commute. Why do these people live so far away? Some are part of a couple where one person works in Milwaukee, and the other in Madison. Some changed jobs and don’t want to uproot the family. Some love living in the country, and a long commute is the price they pay. Some are at temporary positions and see no reason to move for a job that may be over in a year or so….The three things that will convince people to not drive (for certain trips) are: time, money, and a pleasant experience. For some people one of these is more important than others. Some people will do anything to save a few bucks, even if it means getting there slower or in a less convenient way. For other people, they don’t care how much it costs, as long as it is fast. Still others just hate fighting traffic, and will do almost anything to not have to drive at certain times or to certain places. .. Being able to get an hour’s work done instead of being stressed out is a big incentive for many people.

Can you turn that $ into road $? Scott Walker ran on the campaign promise that he would first kill the train, and 2nd, turn that $ into money for “crumbling roads and bridges”. In this DOT financial planning document, you will see read that the money is for intercity passenger rail only. Also, if deadlines are missed, the money goes to other eligible projects in a similar class. Ignoring this, Walker persisted, and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood reasserted that the money is for high speed rail. And other states wait in line for it eagerly. Governors in the states of California, New York, Illinois, Florida, and North Carolina have all communicated some or a lot of willingness to take that $810 million off of Wisconsin’s hands.

Lastly, a myth-buster article I have shared widely is Opponents spew myths about high-speed rail by Mike Schafer from BizTimes.com.

6 rallies in Wisconsin for high speed rail [AKA intercity rail]

It’s a pretty amazing day. Six rallies in Wisconsin to support the Wisconsin passenger rail project that Scott Walker wants to reject. They are in Madison, Milwaukee, La Crosse, Watertown, Oshkosh, and Eau Claire and all at NOON. I’ll be going to Watertown, where there is/was a station for the planned route and Mayor Ron Krueger is speaking. More info is HERE on facebook or at the Sierra Club website.

Before I go – I’ll look at answering the anti-rail “choo choo” crowd’s jeers, I mean, “questions”.

Speed?: Illuminating radio personality Vicki McKenna said the service would go at “cow speed” in a recent tweet.  Facts: The train will operate at 79 mph initially when installed in 2013. By December 2015, speeds increase – 90‐110 mph between Milwaukee‐Watertown and 110 mph between Watertown‐Madison.

True “high speed” is about 150 mph. In a national master plan, a high speed rail runs Chicago to Minneapolis in the future –  building off of this line.

Too expensive to maintain? Scott Walker, Governor as of January 3rd, 2011, says that the train will be a wasteful “boondoggle” and too expensive to maintain.

I turn to James Rowen’s blog “The Political Environment” and a piece called “Did WISDOT analyse the costs and benefits of the Madison-Milwaukee Rail Line – and its termination?” He reminds us that 100% of the construction – or $810 million – comes from the federal stimulus plan. And, 90% of the yearly maintenance is covered by the federal gov’t as well. Leaving us with $750,000 to cover. This figure, I recall, is 0.03% of our yearly DOT budget.

On paying for that $750,000- Rowen says, it’s covered. And I agree: “The train was to produce more than 4,700 construction jobs through 2013 and create at least 55 full-time operator and other jobs just in this Wisconsin piece of a Midwestern network,  – – so my question is, did the state figure out what the projected state income tax payments would be on worker and contractor salaries, for example, and also the projected sales taxes on materials purchased for the line’s construction?”

If we build it, will they come?: You’ll see this comment from critics-“Nobody will ride the train” There’s statistical analysis done by DOT using the same models they use for any traffic that show 300,000 people will ride the train per year Milwaukee to Madison, and of course more when it goes to Minneapolis[Note-A commenter left a note that explains why 300,000 is a very conservative number]. But I know a lot of people can’t trust stats. Robbie Webber does a nice write up on that in her rail myth-busting piece. Just an excerpt:

I think the naysayers would be very surprised how many people commute between Madison and Milwaukee every day for work. Or somewhere in between like Watertown or Delafield. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to who either do this commute themselves, or work with someone that does the commute. Why do these people live so far away? Some are part of a couple where one person works in Milwaukee, and the other in Madison. Some changed jobs and don’t want to uproot the family. Some love living in the country, and a long commute is the price they pay. Some are at temporary positions and see no reason to move for a job that may be over in a year or so….The three things that will convince people to not drive (for certain trips) are: time, money, and a pleasant experience. For some people one of these is more important than others. Some people will do anything to save a few bucks, even if it means getting there slower or in a less convenient way. For other people, they don’t care how much it costs, as long as it is fast. Still others just hate fighting traffic, and will do almost anything to not have to drive at certain times or to certain places. .. Being able to get an hour’s work done instead of being stressed out is a big incentive for many people.

Can you turn that $ into road $? Scott Walker ran on the campaign promise that he would first kill the train, and 2nd, turn that $ into money for “crumbling roads and bridges”. In this DOT financial planning document, you will see read that the money is for intercity passenger rail only. Also, if deadlines are missed, the money goes to other eligible projects in a similar class. Ignoring this, Walker persisted, and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood reasserted that the money is for high speed rail. And other states wait in line for it eagerly. Governors in the states of California, New York, Illinois, Florida, and North Carolina have all communicated some or a lot of willingness to take that $810 million off of Wisconsin’s hands.

Lastly, a myth-buster article I have shared widely is Opponents spew myths about high-speed rail by Mike Schafer from BizTimes.com.

Scott Walker and high speed rail: This is why Wisconsin can’t have nice things. Or jobs.

New Development immediately after I posted this: Sensenbrenner, Petri, and Ryan conduct worthless stunt: legislation to return $810 million in rail $

Walker needs to eat crow and support our high speed rail plan as originally crafted, and FAST. Or he’ll have to change his notrain.com site to nojobs.com.

Scott Walker, Gov-Elect, has consistently campaigned on killing high speed passenger rail & building roads with $810 in rail money. In fact, WI road builders made sure he kept to THEIR talking points with over $128,000 of campaign money.

Walker was so devoted to roads over rail, he stood on Madison’s square 1 day after he won the governor’s spot and renewed his vow to fight trains. Nevermind details. Which Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood reminded Walker of saying “none of those funds may be used for anything other than our high-speed rail program”. The plan for that rail system has been in the works since at least 1998 and will deliver 80% of the U.S. population from “downtown to downtown” within 25 years.

This is why LaHood has no shortage of other states asking him for WI rail dollars – to be used FOR PASSENGER RAIL. New York State and Illinois are just the noisiest contenders in a total of 132 who applied for the money.[Note-I’ve seen other authors take this # of applications much higher. Chasing down sources…]

And who gave that money? The Appropriations Committee NOT the Transportation Committee.

I’m going to guess that Walker assumed from day 1 that any reapproval for the rail $ would occur in the House Transportation committee, where Republican buddy John Mica is the new chair. Or did he think that because a lot of Republicans won on November 2nd, he could PRESTO FLIP-O turn rail into road?

I have the answer. He just doesn’t like to do homework & doesn’t assign it to anybody else either.

I present Exhibit A, B, and C. He wrote a letter to Gov Doyle saying Madison’s Charter street power plant should burn natural gas, without realizing that the plant is already designed to burn natural gas along with biomss. And second: a facebook prorail supporter called his office and found out that staff had no idea that the rail is planned to reach to Minnesota and beyond.

Walker is not smart enough to realize he should hire staff members smarter than he is. Should I even mention the budget plan he released in 58 point font? That I dub “C”.

But let’s pick up the pace here. We’ve got a deadline. And I am going to bet that the deadline to use the Wisconsin grant money was blown the moment that the site for the Madison rail station got changed.

Why? Because when you apply for a federal grant, you submit a plan, and then if you desire to change that plan, the part you want to change has to be approved by the body that gave you the money. Minor tweaks, could be approved by LaHood. But major? I”d guess it’s  the Appropriations Committee – currently chaired by Dave Obey who cares about Wisconsin. I’m looking at page 30 of this DOT document which shows the deadlines to be met. I see two December 31st deadlines that can’t be met.

Somebody, perhaps Scott Walker, must humbly ask for an extension fast…for the high speed rail project that fits into the existing national plan…or this money has to go to somebody else’s rail.

Well what if he doesn’t do that by January 1 and takes his chances with the new guys? Then Obey is out, and the new Repubs are in. He’ll be dealing with what is predicted to be a gridlocked Congress made more unpredictable by the addition of Tea Partiers who want government small enough to remind us of the 1800’s. And by the way the Senate is still majority Dems. And we still have Commander in Chief Barrack Obama.

Oh and the salivating states of Illinois and New York who WANT rail $  aren’t going to have a problem with noticing little details like grant money that by law is supposed to be returned to the passenger rail kitty when deadlines are missed.

Some take hope because Walker is talking about putting the rail dollars into existing rail that stretches between Chicago & Milwaukee and Milwaukee & Minneapolis, still leaving Madison off the rail path.

Things are changing quickly now. Wisconsin is reviewing his campaign funding from road companies, a facebook page of about 8,200 9,400 fans for Save the Train Wisconsin (as of November 22nd) that is still growing, his office phonelines have been jammed with callers telling him to save the train, and a billboard is between Milwaukee and Madison which says “Dear Scott Walker, thanks for the money & jobs! Love, Illinois”.

And rallies? Talgo held a rally for from 200-300 people. Sierra Club and others plan rallies in 7 statewide locations Saturday November 20th.

I think Walker’s slight cave-in to rail is giving an inch, when we need a mile – and a fast one.  And you know what? Again, there are details. The money is not for the Amtrak line or the Hiawatha. Keep your focus on high speed passenger rail from Milwaukee to Madison. The clock is running out on our state’s rail money.

More on John Mica…

As for the new chair of the Congressional Transporation Committee, John Mica of Florida it is true that he wants to review all high speed rail grants. Signs are out there to show that although he thinks the NorthEast is best suited for passenger rail, he is not a rail killer. He supports public private partnerships, otherwise known as “3Ps”. In fact, in 2008 he wrote legislation to authorize private sector participation in the development of high-speed rail for the first time – – which was completely ignored by the U.S. DOT., by the way.

If you work for the rail industry, you think 3Ps are a good ideabecause they could fund the estimated 300 billion dollars in U.S. passenger rail that it would take to get this all over America. But people who follow these things point to scuttled or failed plans inIndiana, Chicago, and other places and worry that they don’t get structured correctly, and that ensures failure for the project as a whole. But not before putting a lot of government money in the pockets of the many contractors that build the infrastructure.

So even if Mica did get a chance to “review” all rail plans, it would not necessarily mean they’d get morphed into roads. It could just mean they could be more profitable for the private industries that creates those systems, likely cutting out union labor, for one thing.

More on Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood…

Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is a moderate Republican who has his job in the cabinet thanks to President Obama. He’s not a Fox-brand Republican. LaHood started out his career as a middle school teacher, which means he really knows how to take a few punches without running home to mom and he knows how to handle people. Also,  he’s a member of the Republican Main Street Partnership a moderate group that abstained from the Gingrich “Contract with America” back in the day. I don’t think he walks on water. But he is a regular old politician who’s been around for a long time. And incidentally, he’s been playing nice with every quarter he can, including even Netroots bloggers, to accumulate rail fans and keep advancing what will be the passenger rail equivalent of the interstate highway system.

A note on Doyle…

As for our current governor Jim Doyle, he recently abdicated control of the rail project to Scott Walker – puzzling because he rushed to sign contracts for 300 million dollars in rail work the weekend BEFORE November 2nd. Doyle bluffed his way forward starting rail construction to see how the other side would react. Walker blustered back “no rail” stronger. Doyle likely halted at too many “what-if”s. What if the grant deadline didn’t get extended? What if the station negotiations in Madison dragged and dragged (likely, knowing Madison politics)? The Right could have time to gather steam, choke off money, and Wisconsin would have a train to nowhere.  That would be perfect for Scott Walker and friends to kick around.

Light reading…

An in case you want to dig into more predictions of the House and Senate actions in 2011, you may enjoy reviewing all 52 pages of THIS PDF from Alston & Bird LLP – the same folks that have Bob Dole on the payroll.