Two States Turning Their Back on Federal Stimulus Dollars; Another Stands Ready to Take the Money

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Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker and Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich want both of their states to stop any work on high speed rail projects that are funded with federal stimulus dollars. Yet, both newly elected governors seem to want the millions of dollars the federal government is offering. (For Ohio that amounts to about $400 million, and Wisconsin was slated to receive $810 million).

Neither governor wants to put the transportation money into high speed rail programs. Instead they want to use the money to fix roads and bridges. The newly elected Republican governors apparently like federal spending — when it means money they can spend as they please.  

It turns out that Ohio has already been given federal dollars to help with the transportation issues Kasich mentions. A letter from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood reminded Kasich that Ohio has already received over $1 billion for road, bridge, and airport projects. As for the rail funding, LaHood clarified that, "none of those funds may be used for anything other than our high-speed rail program."   

On election night, Walker unveiled his new slogan “Wisconsin is Open for Business.” But shutting down the progress already made to produce a rail line connecting Madison to Milwaukee means that local employees at the company making the trains, Talgo Inc., fear for their jobs and plans to hire a total of 125 employees are on hold. Earlier this week three Wisconsin Congressman introduced a bill that would allow the state to return its federal high-speed rail money and put it toward federal deficit reduction. Of course, Wisconsin's share of the rail dollars is just a drop in the bucket compared to the deficit.

Not everybody is taking this same approach with the federal gift horse. Illinois officials seem ready to take the money and Talgo’s operations if no one else wants them. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has said to Talgo that his office “stands ready to do whatever it can to make Illinois your new Midwestern home.”  The Illinois Transportation Secretary has said that if Wisconsin doesn’t want the money for high speed projects they will take it.  Local officials seem equally enthusiastic “Let’s get after it,” said one County Board Chairman. “I’m in line — what do I need to do? I don’t think I can do a back flip, but absolutely that would be fantastic.”

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