Friday, December 10, 2010

Wisconsin GOP Gov-Elect Doesn't Want High-Speed Trains, Still Wants the Pork

Ever since voters in my home state of Wisconsin shot themselves in the feet last month and replaced Sen. Russ Feingold and elected a conservative Republican to succeed a Democratic governor, we've witnessed the usual short-sighted decisions that this brand of populist conservative has unleashed on our country.

In the latest move, Governor-elect Scott Walker has rejected about $810 million in federal stimulus money that was restricted for high-speed rail, arguing that the high-speed train line would cost the state (horrors!) $7.5 million a year after it was completed.

Now, Wisconsin is not profligate California, but neither is it poor Mississippi. It performs much better than average economically and it has much better than average schools. Though it is now facing large budget deficits as a result of overspending and the bad economy, it will not always face that situation. It will, however, always need innovation and leading-edge developments to stimulate its economy, make use of its world-class educational institutions, and attract talent and investment from outside the state.

If Walker was just worried about the short-term financial situation, then the train project would have been ideal. It is, after all, stimulus money, intended to stimulate economic activity during times when the financial and business systems are unable to do so themselves. Such as, oh, now. But Walker is displaying none of the vision that long-time Governor Tommy Thompson used to show. Thompson, a very conservative and very independent Republican, was vocal in his support for trains in general and high-speed trains in particular. He got it. Walker doesn't, and it will harm Wisconsin's businesses and families in future years as their state falls behind states that are innovating in this technology – and it will increase America's distance behind countries that are leading in high-speed train technology, countries such as China and Germany and France and Japan.

Oh, Newser points out, Walker still wants the money from Washington. He wanted to stimulate other parts of his economy, perhaps, or he wanted to spread it around to projects that made him happy. Either way, he's not making the investment that would have real short- and long-term benefits for his state. The money will instead be redistributed to other states that aren't technophobic.

I think this is just the latest case of short-sighted Americans learning to feel good about giving up the lead in innovation and science and creativity.
Photo from Wikipedia/Creative Commons by Sese Ingolstadt.

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