Compiled by MCJ Staff
A coalition of labor and community activists urged Governor-elect Scott Walker Monday not to stop construction of an $810 million high-speed rail project that would create family supporting jobs and provide a vital commuter connection between Milwaukee and Madison.
During a rally at the former Tower Automotive site, where the Spanish train manufacturer Talgo plans to build the high-speed trains that would go between Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago, representatives of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Coalition, MICAH and Voces de la Frontera asked Walker to reconsider his proposal to stop construction.
One of the key planks of Walker’s campaign for governor has been the elimination of the high-speed rail project. He said his reason for rejecting the federal government’s $810 million is that the project would cost the state too much money to maintain—approximately $7.9 million.
Rail proponents say canceling the project would mean the loss of 4,732 construction jobs. The state would also lose 9,570 permanent jobs and approximately $173 million in increased state household income.
Plus, the state would have to pay back the federal government and contractors for work already done.
The city of Milwaukee has already spent $10 million to buy the Tower site for Talgo. If the project is cancelled, the Tower site will remain a symbol of the industrial decline and blight Milwaukee and the nation is suffering from.
In his comments to the gathering, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt challenged the governor-elect to “look at the facts” of the project now that the “election campaign rhetoric is dying down.”
“The federal government has made it clear that these funds cannot be diverted to other projects or used for other purposes,” Neuenfeldt said during the rally.
“Beyond the immediate job creation associated with construction, high-speed rail infrastructure is an important step towards building commuter friendly communities, as well as efficient, time-saving travel links between economic centers. That encourages growth which benefits all kinds of business and creates good jobs,” Neuenfeldt said.
Several African American local and state lawmakers also addressed the rally and spoke in support of the project. Milwaukee Alderman Willie Wade reminded Walker that he is “governor of all the people in the state, and the people in this state need jobs.”
Alderman and Common Council President Willie Hines asked whether or not the state and Milwaukee would “get on board” or miss the opportunity to grow a “real, regular transit system.
“We want Rail Wisconsin and we want rail now,” Hines said.
Offering Walker a gift card from a local optical retail store, state Sen. Spencer Coggs called the governor-elect “short-sighted.” Coggs also asked rhetorically who would give away jobs and $810 million.
Coggs also told the rally he found it illogical for Walker to worry about spending $7.9 million in annual upkeep of the rail system, but not worry about having to pay back the city of Milwaukee the $100 million it spent to acquire the manufacturing site.
State Rep. Barbara Toles, whose father worked 31 years as a welder at the old A.O. Smith Company, said the area surrounding the former plant is in need of the type of jobs that supported her family growing up.
In a press statement, state Rep. Tamara Grigsby echoed her colleagues, saying the state cannot afford to lose the project “Democrats worked tirelessly over the past two years trying to bring new jobs to this state. Is Governor-elect Walker really so eager to send them away?
Grigsby revealed that canceling Wisconsin’s investment in high-speed rail would add an estimated $100 million to the state. It’s been estimated that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation would lose nearly 14,000 construction and permanent jobs the federal investment would bring.
“We need a plan to create jobs, not send them away,” Grigsby said. “Talgo’s multimillion dollar investment is critical to the revitalization of the former Tower Automotive site and reviving the surrounding community.
“I am eager to work with anyone, Democrat or Republican, to build our economy, but canceling this historic investment is bad for our budget and bad for the future of our state.”
On Tuesday, Nov. 23, Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods will hold a candlelight vigil to save Wisconsin jobs and save Talgo. The vigil will start at 5 p.m. and will be held at the 27th Street parking lots between Hopkins and Townsend Streets.