Off the Rails II: GOP Misreading Ayn Rand in Blocking Railroads
In her seminal work, “Atlas Shrugged”, Rand (yeah, newly-minted Senator Rand Paul is named for her) has railroad magnates as her heroes, and it is a symptom of America’s decadence that the railroad network is allowed to fall into disrepair.
The latest round: fallout continues from Wiscosin Governor-elect Scott Walker’s vow to shut down the high speed rail line planned for his state. The Republican ran on an anti-tax and anti-government platform, with the rail line as his poster child. He vowed to block the line through any means necessary and use the money for roads and bridges instead.
But the Federal Department of Transportation says rail money is for rails, and Wisconsin can’t just use it for other stuff. Meanwhile, New York and Illinois both say they’d be happy to have the money for actual rail projects
“To me, it doesn’t make sense to not move ahead, but we have had an election,” said outgoing Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. There has been a lot of politics played with this issue, but I have to deal in the real world and think about how this affects real jobs and the real lives of people.”
Jobs, jobs, jobs
Here are the numbers:
- $810 million of Federal money was appropriated for the high speed rail line to connect Milwaukee and Madison.
- The construction would create almost 5,000 jobs.
- There would be 55 permanent operations jobs.
- The operating rail line would cut transit time between the cities, creating more economic activity and jobs.
- There is also a railcar factory in Wisconsin. Jobs would be created there, but if this line is cut they’ll probably move to a more transit-friendly state, like Illinois.
- Once the rail line is completed, the cost to run it every year will be $7.5 million. Since it’s part of a regional transportation hub (the link between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago), the Federal government will probably pick up 90% of that as well, as it does on other rail lines.
- But cancelling the rail line will cost $100 million and 400 jobs just in the near term.
US infrastructure is crumbling, mostly because years of budget-cutting and anti-tax posturing have left some states near collapse – and some bridges actually collapsing.
But Walker didn’t seem concerned about that until he was able to use it as an issue against the train line.
“The whole reason we made a point of raising our concerns about this is I don’t want the taxpayers of this state to be stuck with a bill of $7½ (million) to $10 million a year when we have roads and bridges that need to be fixed,” Walker said.
But that ain’t happening, as Walker ally Congressman Tom Petri acknowledged.
“Now this money, if Wisconsin decides not to use it, is still in that grant program and in the normal course of events would be rebid and (would go to) New York or California or one of the (other) states,” Petri said. “For us to keep that money would require us to change the law and that would mean getting the votes of (states like) New York and California and Florida. It’s conceivable but very unlikely.”
Also, under current rules, if the state backs out it will have to repay any money already spent. It’s unclear what that total is, but outgoing Governor Doyle figures it at nearly $100 million. There would be $14.25 million just in cancellation costs on the contracts – enough to run the line for 20 years (with the expected Federal subsidies).
So it’s clearly a lot more about anti-railroad ideology than any actual concern for the bottom line.
Ideology? Or just weasel-words?
Here’s Walker on jobs:
[My opponent] tells us that spending $810 million on high-speed rail will create thousands of new Wisconsin jobs, but according to the federal government’s own estimate, the total number of permanent jobs created will be 55. That’s $14.5 million per job, not including any hidden costs!
Having seen the numbers above, you’ll note that he is ONLY referring to the 55 permanent operations jobs – not jobs from all the other economic development that will be sparked by the rail line. Weasel words.
Meanwhile, Walker appears to be talking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to keeping jobs in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin-based Talgo railcar company has been trying to convince him to allow the line to go ahead. Company spokeswoman Nora Friend said, “He was very kind to explain that the decision is not final. He’s just trying to understand the implications of the big project. He needs time, and we think that’s fair.”
But Walker’s spokeswoman Jill Bader said “not true”.
“Scott remains opposed to the train. He reached out this afternoon to encourage Talgo to remain in Wisconsin,” Bader said. “He needs time to have discussions next week with the Doyle administration on their intentions when it comes to this project, and will continue to examine all legal options to stop the train.”