Off The Rails: Wisconsin and Ohio’s Rejected Money Going Elsewhere

  • Published on December 11th, 2010

We told you last month how the incoming Republican Governors of Ohio and Wisconsin had rejected Federal money for high-speed rail lines that would have created jobs and jump-started regional economies. They put Tea Party, anti-government ideology ahead of job creation and economic development.

Well, it’s now official: $1.2 billion in snubbed money will go to rail projects in friendlier states, probably California and Florida.

(DOT Press Release) U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that $1.195 billion in high-speed rail funds originally designated for Wisconsin and Ohio will be redirected to other states eager to develop high-speed rail corridors across the United States. Wisconsin has suspended work under its existing high-speed rail agreement and the incoming Governors in Wisconsin and Ohio have both indicated that they will not move forward to use high-speed rail money received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  As a result, $1.195 billion will be redirected to high-speed rail projects already underway in other states.

“High-speed rail will modernize America’s valuable transportation network, while reinvigorating the manufacturing sector and putting people back to work in good-paying jobs,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “I am pleased that so many other states are enthusiastic about the additional support they are receiving to help bring America’s high-speed rail network to life.”

This will cost hundreds or thousands of jobs in the two states, and blow a hole in a planned regional rail network.

Why did they do that?

From our earlier report:

In Ohio, Governor-elect Kasich said Thursday “That train is dead,” at the same press briefing where he said his top priority was creating jobs. He was referring to a rail-line upgrade in the “3-C Corridor”, connecting Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, a $400 million stimulus package.

…Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, Governor-elect Scott Walker will make good on his campaign pledge to shut down the high-speed rail line from Madison to Milwaukee, an $810 million project funded with stimulus dollars. 300 workers on the project were sent home on Thursday.

The rail line started life as a Republican project, initiated when Tommy Thompson was Governor in 1993. It took 17 years of planning, only to be killed now in the ideological firestorm brought on by the past year of tea-partyage. Walker had been the Milwaukee County Executive, and opposing the train was a centerpiece of his campaign for Governor.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Johnathan Weisman showcased how the right is going to paint this one by turning it on its head: making it appear that a vindictive White House had “yanked” the money in retaliation for the states electing GOP governors. Nice try, but spectacularly shoddy journalism.

This wasn’t Wisconsin’s money to play with

Wisconsin’s Walker had tried to make a case that he should be able to use the money for road and bridge repairs, but the DOT pointed out that no, that’s not how things work when you apply for a grant targeted to a specific purpose.

You can’t apply to the Department of education for money to build a school and then use the money to pay janitors. You can’t apply to the Department of Energy for loan guarantees for a nuclear power plant and then use the money to build a wind farm.

That’s called fraud, and misappropriation of funds.

You can say anything you want in a campaign and nobody is going to call you on it. But after you win the election you have to operate in the real world, where actual rules apply.

“High-speed rail money is not a slush fund for governors to use at their pleasure,” Dan Johnson-Weinberger, a spokesman for the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, told Bloomberg. “It’s a terrible day for the Midwest economy.”

Where’s the money going?

Here’s DOT’s breakdown of where the money will go instead:

  • California: up to $624 million
  • Florida: up to $342.3 million
  • Washington State: up to $161.5 million
  • Illinois: up to $42.3 million
  • New York: up to $7.3 million
  • Maine: up to $3.3 million
  • Massachusetts: up to $2.8 million
  • Vermont: up to $2.7 million
  • Missouri up to $2.2 million
  • Wisconsin: up to $2 million for the Hiawatha line
  • Oregon: up to $1.6 million
  • North Carolina: up to $1.5 million
  • Iowa: up to $309,080
  • Indiana: up to $364,980


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About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.