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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Thanks, Cheeseheads

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     The money's gone.

      Talgo is leaving.

       A couple of states are celebrating.

      And, Scott Walker is getting the blame, or depending on how you look at it, the credit for all of the above.

      The governor-elect's quest to kill high-speed rail in Wisconsin helped sweep him into office in the eyes of some, and made a pariah to those who saw the link from Madison to Milwaukee as an economic boom.   

       If you're looking for bad guys in this whole rail debate, look no further to than the fans of the project who sat on their hands as Walker and like-thinkers framed the argument in the days after the Feds first sent $810 million Wisconsin's way all those days ago and in the mid-term elections that followed.

      Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will forever stick out in my memory for his petulant Watertown news conference last summer in Watertown, the one in which he pledged up and down that the rail link was a certainty.   He all but banged his shoe on the podium ala Nikita Kruschchev  at the UN.

      What he should've done is explain how the link would've worked.   How much it would've cost to run.   How deep into the pockets of Wisconsin taxpayers it's operations would've dug.    Who would've used it.   How much would a ticket really cost.    When and how would it be hooked up to a regional/national system that would've been a legitimate alternative to driving or even flying.

      Nope.  LaHood instead pouted and pointed and held his breath, insisting that federal fiat was enough.    And you wonder why some people have no use for government, even when it's pouring scads of money into their home state.

      Backers followed LaHood's lead, feeling that all it took was LaHood's assurance to make high speed rail happen.    Even Mayor Tom Barrett, when given the chance on the gubernatorial campaign trail to justify the link, offered up tepid endorsements of the project and little in the way of specifics.    Maybe the polls showed the topic was a political "third rail", a topic that shouldn't be broached  because of it's caustic response from voters.   No one made the case.  No one had the answers.   All we heard were assurances that the receipt of federal money is a good thing, even if it's being spent on an alleged boondoggle.   Opponents sounded like the late William Proxmire, turning the link into a modern-day "Golden Fleece" award.   

      Supporters remained curiously silent, until it was too late.

      Walker's win meant the end of the link and the start of too-little-too-late rallies and candlelight vigils.   Talk about the horse already leaving the barn...

      I don't know if the train was a good idea or a bad one, but the glee with which other states are reacting as Wisconsin's rail dollars fall into their laps tell me high speed rail is truly the bee's knees or our neighbors are much more used to being on the federal teat than we are.    California editorials ("Thanks, Cheeseheads!) hail the Washington largess, although that very same paper detailed how the first link of that state's high speed rail route will lie fallow for years, the thought being that it had to be constructed lest Washington aid be lost.   

      Wisconsin may never again get such a kick at the federal cat, at least when it comes to high speed rail.    Perhaps our state will be on the outside looking in as the rest of the nation is linked by a state-of-the-art system, watching as others reap the federal windfall of a transportation grid that may become as popular as the interstate highways we use each day.    

      We'll never know for now, though, and high speed rail's biggest fans are to blame.

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