Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman has offered an instructive “strategy memo” for political candidates for governor concerning high-speed rail. Bauman’s memo is directed at the two Republican candidates, which should be news in itself. One should expect a press release from the Neumann and Walker campaigns for governor, “Milwaukee Democrat predicts Republican win in November.”
Bauman’s memo offers advice to the two candidates to cynically campaign against high-speed rail but then become a high-speed rail supporter once in office. It’s meant in sarcasm but even the sarcasm is revealing.
The first piece of advice by Bauman is to continue campaigning against high speed rail. Apparently Bauman believes the Republican candidates are as cynical as he is. Bauman says they should avoid any mention of people who are unable to get around by car because of “disability, age or economic circumstances.”
Perhaps Bauman should avoid mentioning them, too. The high-speed rail line isn’t targeted for those people. As Bauman explained in a previous press release, “intercity rail passengers tend to be middle- and upper-middle class persons who vote, including campaign contributing business persons.” The expected $33 to $40 one-way fare will put it beyond those who are hampered from travel because of economic circumstances. For those that can’t contribute to Bauman’s campaign fund, there is always Greyhound.
“Never mention that gasoline prices may increase significantly in the near future.
“Avoid any mention of the fact that the $823 million federal investment in high-speed rail cannot be redirected to freeway expansion or highway projects.”
If gas prices increase dramatically in the future, so will the price of operating the train. What does he think it runs on, solar power? Does he think there will be giant windmills on the trains?
As for the $823 million in federal money, there is no such thing as free money. The cost of operating the high-speed rail train ($15.6 million the first year including the leg to Chicago) will be borne by Wisconsin taxpayers. While the federal money cannot be redirected, the high-speed rail project will be re-directing funds from the state’s transportation fund to pay for the train, if the money does not come from the taxpayers directly.
The Milwaukee alderman then has a suggestion the Republican governor include in his inauguration address.
Lead off inaugural speech with solemn pledge to stop Milwaukee-Madison high speed rail construction. Repeat evils of rail and emphasize that you will save civilization from the scourge of rail travel and the big government it represents. Repeat pledges to cut taxes and slash public services including corrections, aid to public schools, the University of Wisconsin system and shared revenue to all those cities incapable of living within their means. Make sure everyone understands that none of this cutting will include freeway expansion or highway building since cheap gas and free roads are a fundamental right of every true American.
It’s good that Bauman understands high-speed rail is representative of the problems of big government. As for cutting corrections, perhaps the alderman was referring to the last budget that included an early release program to cut costs, releasing criminals onto the streets of Milwaukee. Meanwhile, because the state legislature and the governor were unable to prioritize, the state transportation fund was raided to fill the gap in education spending.
One month in for the next administration, Bauman suggests that it would be okay then for the new governor to forget the promise to abandon the high-speed rail project.
With a very serious and somber tone report that over the last month you have asked the best legal minds in the state to find a way to stop Milwaukee-to-Madison high speed rail construction and cancel all contracts let to date — but that the legal experts have informed you that it cannot be done unless the state agrees to reimburse the federal government for all funds expended to date and to reimburse the contractors for all the lost profits and cancellation penalties contained in their contracts. You report with great reluctance that construction must therefore proceed because the state cannot afford to stop construction. Be sure to emphasize over and over that this is the legacy of Jim Doyle who has saddled the citizens of Wisconsin with a multi-million dollar federal investment in new infrastructure.
Perhaps that is the way government works in the City of Milwaukee. However, Bauman might remember when Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker was confronted with the “Blue Shirt” art project at the airport. Everyone told him it couldn’t be cancelled. The “Blue Shirt” was never built.
Unlike the “Blue Shirt” a high-speed rail line would have continued operation and maintenance costs, costs that the taxpayers will understand as an unnecessary drain on the state budget. Yes, it will be the legacy of Governor Jim Doyle if this project proceeds when it is highly likely his successor will be forced to cancel the project to prevent it from becoming another long-term obligation on the state budget that can’t afford to add any more obligations. It is also entirely possible that, given the state of the federal budget, the next Congress will be forced to reduce its commitment to these kinds of boondoggle projects.
Do not mention the phone calls from the CEOs of the Wisconsin consulting firms and contractors who were awarded rail contracts and do not mention the fact that they urged you to keep construction moving forward because this project will employ thousands of their employees. Deflect any media questions about campaign contributions from employees of these consultants and contractors. After all, you know that these contributors are only interested in good government.
Again, perhaps in the cynical world of Milwaukee aldermanic politics an alderman could sell out so cheaply. Is that what the alderman is doing, deflecting questions about contributors to him?
After the news conference, call your former campaign operatives, Charlie and Mark, to conduct phone interviews on their radio shows. Again, emphasize how angry you are in being unable to undo the high speed rail project. Be sure to lay all the blame on Jim Doyle and President Obama. Don’t worry, Mark and Charlie won’t be too hard on you, for you know you are “their guy” and you can do no wrong.
Assuming Bauman is referring to Milwaukee radio talk show hosts Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling, would that be before or after they lead their listeners in a recall petition drive? If they do not, surely the Tea Party will. We are in a new political atmosphere where politicians are being held accountable for what they say and do. Perhaps the alderman is bit insulated by the contributors, the consultants and the contractors.
Still, predicting a ribbon cutting on the trains two years from now, Bauman offers his advice what a Republican should say when the Obama economy puts “gasoline prices at $6 per gallon and the Wisconsin unemployment rate at 12%.”
Make a surprise announcement, to wit: that you have just signed a full funding agreement with the federal government to begin construction of the high speed rail line from Madison to the Twin Cities. Emphasize the thousands of construction jobs that will be created and the economic development that will occur in Wisconsin communities along the line. Mention that this new line will make the Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison-Twin Cities corridor the economic engine of the Midwest and the five hour travel time between Chicago and the Twin Cities will revolutionize travel within the state.
Of course this was never about one set of trains. We’ll have another round of shared construction costs ($2 local tax money for every $10 federal) and even more operational expenses. When those trains aren’t enough, there will be more construction to build a train to Green Bay. Then more tracks will be laid to cross the northern part of the state. Because what the train advocates forget to tell everyone is that the trains only go where the tracks are laid. To get to where you want to go you have to build more tracks. Where the state will end up is the poorhouse but that will be okay for Bauman’s contributors, contractors and consultants who will be providing transportation welfare aimed at people who don’t need it.
As for an unemployment rate of 12%, that is going to mean there will be a lot less taxpayers paying for the trains. Good thing running the trains will create 55 permanent jobs. At $6 per gallon for fuel, those trains are going to be expensive to run, too. Baumann doesn’t say who will be paying the tab.
You might want to reference the blizzard that the train has encountered in Waukesha County just as lunch is being served (add humorous comments about Wisconsin winters). Point out how rail travel is a great all-weather mode of transportation (do not mention the cars in the ditch along Highway 16 that you see from the train window).
Upon arrival in Milwaukee (on time despite blizzard) repeat program.
What Bauman should have said is don’t pity the cars stuck in the snow because the train might be stuck in the snow, too. Unlike the SUVs that Bauman does not want you to drive, you may be stuck a long time on that immobile train, like the riders on Amtrak’s California Zephyr to Chicago. The alternative, a high-speed derailment, might ruin a politician’s whole day.
Don’t worry though; no one remembers campaign promises or inaugural speeches anyway.
Especially when they’re given with Bauman’s acute wisdom and level of cynicism.
By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute