Saturday, December 18, 2010

Governor-elect Walker needs better political "training"

Hi everyone,

Sorry about the terrible pun, but it looks like our next governor is going to make that sort of thing easy.

You might have seen it in the news, but the Feds pulled high-speed railroad development money from Wisconsin and Ohio last week. Our governor elect was opposed to taking federal money from the beginning of his campaign so, now that he's won, the feds said "okay" and moved the funds to the other states in the running.

Saturday's column

Gov.-elect needs political "training"

The best joke I’ve seen so far about Scott Walker’s job creation program is this one:

" I hear Scott Walker is already creating jobs – in Florida and California."

Except, of course, it’s no joke. Walker, who claimed that his election meant Wisconsin is open for business, has already managed to cost Wisconsin 13,000 jobs and he isn’t even governor yet. Pretty funny stuff.

Things have changed a lot since the last time we had a Republican governor. Try as I might, I cannot imagine Tommy Thompson, with whom I often disagreed but who’s actions I always understood, throwing away $800 million in relatively free federal funding. Tommy would have made the appropriate noises about wasteful Washington spending, and then put the interests of Wisconsin’s families first.

Here’s what Walker cost those families: 4,732 construction jobs and 9,570 permanent jobs after construction was completed. That’s about $173 million in wages Wisconsin families will never see now that Gov.-Elect Walker has stuck to his guns.

One of his complaints was that this railroad was another stupid government make-work project. Well, what’s wrong with a make-work project in a state where so many people are out of work? Is the problem that the feds are sponsoring it? Do we think the jobs are real only if the business community to creates them?

That hasn’t worked out very well. The manufacturing sector which once dominated our industries took their profits, exported Wisconsin jobs to China and now blames Wisconsin workers for wanting to earn the kind of wages that once-upon-a time created the American Middle Class.

Bad Middle Class. Who do you think you are anyway? Shut up and be grateful, you peasants.

While we wait for our economic leaders to, well, to start leading – which we can expect now that they’ve bought and paid for the legislature and governor’s office in Madison – why not accept a federally funded railroad? I mean, the tax dollars they were going to send us are, after all, OUR MONEY. Remember paying your taxes? Wouldn’t you have liked to see $810 million come back to Wisconsin?

Walker didn’t toss away someone else’s money – he gave away your money; and he gave it away to Illinois and Florida and California. I wonder if they’ll send a thank you note, or maybe a gift box with some of that California cheese I keep hearing about.

Walker did raise the question of how much this would cost the state in the long run – a good question and a surprising one coming from the party that has lately tied its economic yachts to the anchor of short-term profit. But, his true colors eventually showed themselves. Walker claimed this was a bad deal because operating expenses would stick the state for about $7.5 million a year after construction was finished.

This is disingenuous for at least two reasons: 1. $7.5 million works out to about four-tenths of one percent (0.4 percent) of the state’s $2.1 billion annual budget for transportation infrastructure and 2. federal subsidies – like the subsidy for the Hiawatha Line between Milwaukee and Chicago – would probably knock that down to $750,000 a year: three fewer zeros and less than it costs to operate the governor’s mansion. Frankly, that sounds like a pretty good deal – especially in a state with 7.8 percent unemployment (as of October 2010).

But Walker clearly isn’t interested in the long-term investment potential. Milwaukee already spent about $10 million to help set up Talgo, the Spanish company that came to Wisconsin (and brought real jobs with it) to build trains for this route. Talgo is now thinking about pulling up stakes and moving someplace where trains are wanted – a good business decision and one precipitated by a lousy political decision. This is one reason why Robert Kraig from Citizen Action of Wisconsin called Walker’s anti-job, anti-train position “economic treason.”

I’m afraid I have to disagree with Mr. Kraig on a technicality. For it to be treason, Mr. Walker would have had to lie about his intentions – he hasn’t. He claimed all along to be opposed to any investment in this railway project.

People voted him in with eyes wide open; it’s just that elections have consequences. Voters who were persuaded by the blitzkrieg of billionaire funded political infomercials for Republican “pro-job” candidates this fall shot themselves, and the state, in the foot. They elected a candidate who promised job creation and then found a way to eliminate 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin even before moving into the governor's mansion. California and Florida will be laughing all the way to their new train stations.

I never thought I’d say it but: Tommy, wherever you are, please phone home.

Turning down our own tax dollars because accepting them would be bad for us? Who's the Nanny now?


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