The Trains Keep Rolling
****NOTE***: If you cannot view portions of this E-update - especially video clips - please clickHERE to view this E-update in your web browser. If you've read the news or listened to talk radio these past few weeks, you've probably seen and heard a few stories about trains. This is because Democrats and Governor Doyle are making a last ditch effort to put KRM in motion. High speed rail has also attracted some press because of the controversy surrounding it.
However, not everything about the trains has been covered by the media, and since it's a significant issue with many facets, I thought I'd take this opportunity to provide an update on these projects.
HIGH SPEED RAIL
As you know, the high speed rail line that has been approved between Madison and Milwaukeeis controversial on many fronts. First, it's an $810 million stimulus project that will require ongoing state resources to operate and to pay the capital bonding costs. It isn't really high speed, as it will initially travel at about 75mph and take the same amount of time to travel between the two cities as a car would. The roundtrip ticket price is projected to be $60. And finally, Governor Doyle entered into a no-bid contract with Spanish train company, Talgo, for two train sets with a price tag of $48 million.
A few weeks ago, I appeared on Upfront with Mike Gousha, opposite Bob Jambois, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's general legal counsel. The debate centered around the no-bid contract issued to Talgo. In the interview, he accused me of Mccarthyism for saying the process was rigged. I was totally taken aback by his comments. Watch the entire interview below (click here if you can't see video):
A week or so later, after seeing the Upfront video, I was contacted by the vice president of New York train company, Alstom, who also took great issue with Mr. Jambois' comments. They sent me a letter they had written to the DOT last fall complaining about the bidding process. The letter explains that the claims made by DOT that no one responded to their request for information (RFI) process are completely false. Alstom also asserted that it's clear based on how DOT handled the situation they were simply stacking the deck to make sure Talgo was the only company to get the contract. Alstom further pointed out that DOT's claim that they went with Talgo because they are the only company to offer "tilting technology" is false and that most train manufacturers offer this.
The day I released the letter and this press release to the media, I was invited on Charlie Sykes' radio show to talk about it. Charlie posted a story about this on his website, however I was disappointed that the story didn't get more traction with mainstream media outlets.
Last week I participated in a press conference with Rep. Brett Davis and Scott Walker to introduce a bill that would put the brakes on the high speed rail project until the full legislature approves it.
Because the train is initially paid for with stimulus money a full vote is not required, even though we've heard from people all over the state who object to this train based on the ongoing operating costs that will be sucked out of the transportation fund for years to come.
The proposal for high speed rail was approved by Democrats on the Joint Finance Committeein February. At that time, I introduced amendments to require a private study of the ongoing costs. All my amendments were quickly dismissed by the Democrats on the committee. You can watch that debate here (click here if you can't see video):
It's unfortunate that because federal money is paying for this project initially, so many view it as free. It's not free money, it's taxpayer money, and it will have major long-term costs, the extent of which we can't even predict right now because we've not been given all the information.
KRM Commuter Rail
The KRM commuter rail line proposal has certainly gone through many transformations over the years. When it comes to process, this year may go down as the most interesting year for the proposal, yet. Though many backers blamed Republicans for so many years for not pushing it through, the line has become a more contentious and volatile issue this year when Democrats control both houses and the Governor's mansion.
First it was in the budget, then Governor Doyle vetoed it out. Then legislators waited until the last minute to finally put forth a proposal because consensus could not be reached between Milwaukee County representatives, the Governor's office, and those representing the rest of southeast Wisconsin .
The result was a myriad of different bills that sought to create separate regional transportation authorities all over the state. Finally, a public hearing was held, and the buzz around the Capitol was that KRM was once again dead. Yesterday, however, the Assembly Transportation Committee voted on a 52-page substitute amendment, written by Rep. Peter Barca from Kenosha . No member of the committee even got to read the amendment until minutes before the vote was taken.
Though we won't know every ramification of the bill until a final analysis is done, it's clear that it allows new taxing authorities composed of unelected, unaccountable board members to form all over the state and collect new transit taxes from Wisconsin families.
The last-minute draft also puts in place enabling legislation for KRM and appropriates $9 million from the transportation fund (already $30 million in deficit) for "incentive funds" that will go to these unelected boards.
It's possible this bill may come to the Joint Finance Committee next week. However, I'm hearing it's still unlikely the Senate will act on KRM before the end of the session this month. So supporters may have to wait for yet another session to resurrect this ongoing debate.
Last week I had the opportunity to be part of a Racine forum that featured Randal O'toole. O'toole is a senior fellow at The Cato Institute - a nationally recognized free market think tank. He has written many papers on urban transit and its unsustainable nature due to the massive government subsidy needed to operate it when compared to ridership.
I found his presentation very interesting, and thanks to the MacIver Institute, you can watch an interview he did for them. In the interview, he supplies a lot of different graphs and examples to break down the immensity of the subsidy for KRM and high speed rail (click here if you can't see video):
With Democrats knowing that voters are opposed to many of their proposals and that elections are looming in November, they will continue to try and ram through bills at the last minute. Having all the facts is always important and I'll continue to keep you updated on these and other important proposals as we approach the frantic-paced close of the session.
State Representative Robin Vos State Capitol - Room 321 East - Post Office Box 8953 - Madison , Wisconsin 53708 Phone: (608) 266-9171 - Toll Free: (888) 534-0063 - Fax (608) 282-3663 Email: Rep.Vos@legis.wisconsin.gov On the Internet: Representative Vos' Web Site