Even before taking office, Republican Govs.-elect John Kasich (OH) and Scott Walker (WI) swiftly delivered on their “promises to kill America’s future” by rebuking a total of $1.2 billion in stimulus funding for high-speed rail projects in their states. Shunning the $810 million for the long-planned Wisconsin rail project, Walker promised to kill the Milwaukee-Madison link if President Obama tried “to force this down the throats of the taxpayers.”
But campaign rhetoric has very real consequences. Last Thursday — on the same day the World Congress for High Speed Rail announced the next HSR Congress will be held in America for the first time — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood pulled the funding from Ohio and Wisconsin, offering it instead to states more eager to spur economic development. What’s more, because of Walker’s narrow-minded politics, the Spanish train manufacturing company Talgo, which moved into Wisconsin for this project, is closing its Milwaukee plant and taking the much-needed jobs with it:
Talgo Inc., the Spanish manufacturer of high-speed train cars, will abandon its plant in Milwaukee in 2012, according to Nora Friend, a spokeswoman for the company.[...]
“We can’t stay and manufacture in Milwaukee without the high-speed rail to Madison,” Friend said. “This is terrible news.”
Friend said the state’s decision to back away from the high-speed rail project sends a terrible message to businesses considering locating in the state.
“We were encouraged by the business community,” Friend said. “We are really discouraged by what has happened.”
State residents should also be discouraged, she said. Talgo and the construction of the rail line would have created jobs badly needed in the construction industry.
“For anybody to think that there is another $800 million to invest in another project is foolish,” she said. “There is no other pool of money.”
Talgo currently employs 40 people in Milwaukee, WI and “was hoping to grow their staff to as many as 125 to fulfill the orders” that current Gov. Jim Doyle (D) and his administration had made in preparation for the project. Those orders would’ve spurred some 13,000 badly-needed jobs in a state facing a 7.8 percent unemployment rate. (Ohio will lose 16,000 jobs.) Instead, Talgo plans to take that business to three of the states that will share in the federal money taken away from Wisconsin and Ohio, most notably Florida.
Florida’s Gov.-elect Rick Scott (R) also sounded off against high-speed rail during his campaign but, unlike Walker and Kasich, has waffled on whether he’d actually kill the project. With over $2 billion in stimulus money and the prospect of new business flocking to the state, Scott isn’t as willing to shun such potential economic development as his Tea Party brethren.
But Wisconsinites should not be fooled by the flight of business. As he said on election night, Walker’s victory means “Wisconsin is open again for business” — regardless of what actually happens.