Feds yank Wisconsin’s high-speed train money

AFTERNOON EDITION

Calling the bluff of anti-spending new governors in Ohio and Wisconsin, the Obama administration has yanked $1.2 billion in cash for high-speed (job-oriented) rail projects in those two states. An AP story says: “Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker campaigned against a Madison-to-Milwaukee rail line, which would have received $810 million, as a waste of taxpayer money. Walker also said he didn’t want to commit the state to annual operating subsidies once the line was complete, although the project’s supporters predicted it would make money. Walker on Thursday called the death of the proposed line ‘a victory.’ “

The story adds, “Without rail between Milwaukee and Madison, it will be difficult for Midwestern leaders to fulfill their vision of having 110-mph trains linking Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis-St. Paul. The route was a key segment in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative effort by nine states. Political leaders in states benefiting from the cancellation of the Wisconsin and Ohio projects have been lobbying for a share of the $1.2 billion since Election Day.”

The Chicago Tribune covers the story, and says: “Democrats had hailed the project, saying it would be a key step toward linking Chicago and the Twin Cities by rail and stimulating Wisconsin’s economy. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has said building the line would have created about 5,500 jobs. He has warned that stopping the project will result in the immediate loss of more than 400 jobs and cost the state the more than $14 million it has already spent on the line. ‘I obviously am deeply saddened to see us take a major step backward,’ Doyle said in a statement. ‘Now we are moving from being the leader, to the back of the line.’ ” Walker touted himself as a job creator on the campaign trail, but has said he wasn’t interested in train construction jobs because the state needs sustainable positions created outside of government. He also objected to the estimated $7.5 million it would cost the state to run the line, even though Doyle has said the federal government would have probably picked up most of the cost.”

On an entirely unrelated note, (I think), the TIME magazine blog “Newsfeed” headline pretty much says it all: “Wisconsin Leads U.S. in Drunk Drivers.” Says the accompanying story, “This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been on I-94 after a Packers game. Almost one in four dairy state drivers (23.7%) admit to driving while intoxicated, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Close behind was North Dakota, where 22.4% admitted to taking the keys while drunk. A safer state to take a road trip would be Utah, which had the lowest rate of drunk driving at 7.4%.” And stop looking at me like I’m making this stuff up.

The PiPress editorializes about Tom Emmer, saying: “Emmer, a lawyer from Delano, is a three-term House member whose reputation before this race was for lobbing partisan shots at the policies of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, which was in the majority during most of his tenure. After he defeated a more experienced candidate for his party’s gubernatorial nomination this summer, he struggled to find his rhythm as a candidate. But he reorganized his team, focused his message and became a happy warrior for conservative ideas. Emmer appeared to be gaining as the finish line approached. In arguing against statewide tax hikes to solve a big budget deficit — he argued, in fact, for tax cuts aimed at spurring business growth — he differentiated himself from both Dayton and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner. He faced negative, personal television ads based on long-ago driving issues, but said Wednesday he is proud of not resorting to personal attacks.” And he’s nice to his mother.

Gun-totin’, lovelorn legislator (of packing heat in the Planned Parenthood parking lot fame) Tom Hackbarth’s political career is in flux, to say the least. MPR’s Tim Pugmire files an update: “ ‘He’s obviously going through some very difficult times,’ said new House GOP Majority Leader Matt Dean. ‘We as a caucus stand behind Tom in what is a very difficult time for him personally right now, and respect his decision to step away from a leadership role within the caucus at this time, and wish him the best in the weeks ahead.’ Dean was quick to praise Hackbarth as a strong hunting and fishing advocate, but he was less definitive when asked if Hackbarth can still be an effective legislator.”

Pugmire also files a piece off a new study by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which has public employee pay and compensation in its sights: “[The group] concludes those wages, insurance benefits and pensions are threatening the sustainability of government services. Tom Hesse, the chamber’s vice president for government affairs, says public employee compensation should be on the table in the 2011 session when lawmakers try to erase a projected $6.2 billion budget deficit. ‘Many employers over the last two or three years have implemented wage freezes, have changed the contributions to 401Ks for a certain period of time,’ Hesse said. ‘So, there are a lot of things that the private sector has done that the public sector could maybe learn from in how to get through difficult budget times.’ ” To my knowledge, the Chamber has not argued that the benefits of the extended Bush tax cuts should be directed at restoring private sector wages and compensation to public employee levels.

PiPress columnist and St. Paul-based economist Ed Lotterman writes about the tax deal caught in the latest Washington gridlock: “ No school of economic thought, liberal or conservative, advocates raising tax rates when an economy is in the doldrums. And Keynesian economists argue that taxes should be lowered as a short-term spur to output and employment. So extending existing tax rates for all avoids the braking effect that could come from a tax increase. It helps maintain consumption at a time when overall demand in the economy is slack. Including the highest-income taxpayers, however, does so at a high cost in forgone income. Self-described supply-siders argue that greater investment by the wealthy will so spur output and hiring that there will be no such loss of revenues. Economic theory and the history of the last 30 years provide little support for that position, but it persists, nonetheless.”

Well, apparently we’re all going to die, again.  “SnowMaggedon III” is being forecast for Saturday. John Brewer at the PiPress writes: “The metro could be on track for some big snow this weekend, followed by a cold snap expected to bring wind chills as low as 35 degrees below zero. The National Weather Service forecasts snowfall of six inches or more Friday night into Saturday for mainly southern Minnesota, but the storm could track into the Twin Cities as well as west-central Wisconsin.”

Paul Douglas, in the Strib, writes: “Unlike today’s wet, slushy (icy) snowfall, Saturday’s snow will be dry/powdery/fluffy — quick to accumulate, prone to blowing and drifting by afternoon and evening, especially outside the metro area. I don’t see how we see any less than 3-6″ here in the cities — it all depends on where the ‘deformation zone’ — the sharp, back edge of the heavy snow band, sets up. Will it be over Rochester and Red Wing or MSP? Right now it’s just too early to say with any level of confidence. But there is a Potential for 6-12″ or more close to home by Saturday night. Dangerously cold weather arrives over the weekend — wind chills dip into the -20 to -35 range by Saturday night and Sunday.” I’ll show you a “deformation zone.”

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 12/09/2010 - 06:25 pm.

    Personally, I believe the outrageous levels of compensation for the management and corporate boards of many of the Chamber of Commerce’s largest corporate sponsors are threatening the viability of their businesses, not to mention the well being of their employees and the economy of the State of Minnesota in general.

    (Now if those people were paying a reasonable rate of taxes on those bloated incomes, perhaps we could cut them some slack, but since they’re not…)

    It’s high time for the State Government to investigate the effect of those unjustifiably high levels of compensation, the low level of compensation of the average worker, and to propose remedies for the Chamber to be strongly pressured to enact.

    Desperate times call for desperate measures.

    It’s time for some very loud and strident demagoguery regarding how the highly-overpaid fat cats of big business are dragging our state economy down.

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