Scott Walker is either naive or just ill informed. No matter, he’s beginning to just look foolish.
When U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a longtime Illinois Republican, told him that the $810 million Wisconsin had been awarded to connect Madison to what eventually will become a national high-speed rail network could not be used for other than rail, a rebuked Walker fired off a letter telling the secretary the administration should cease advocating for rail and use the money for highways and bridges instead.
The governor-elect is apparently oblivious to the fact that the federal stimulus package passed last year by Congress included $27.5 billion for highways and bridges, not to mention another $1.5 billion for local roads and nearly $2 billion in incentives for people to buy cars to run on those highways. (Wisconsin has already spent $100 million of that money on highway improvements.)
The national allocation for highways is more than three times as much as the $9 billion the stimulus package earmarked for high-speed passenger rail projects -- projects that have been languishing for years, denying tens of thousands of people an alternative to the environmentally destructive automobile.
But there may be much more at play here than Walker’s presumed obliviousness.
Back in March I wrote a column about Walker flying off to Florida (notice he didn’t take the train) to attend the annual convention of the Wisconsin road builders association. (The road builders have now changed their name to the Transportation Builders Association, an obvious effort to mask where their real interests lie.) Walker was just beginning his race for the governorship and he wanted to assure the highway guys that he was on their side and, at the same time, lobby them for some money.
Turns out, his trip was a great success.
According to records maintained by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Walker got $84,793 from road builders between January of 2009 and August of 2010. There’s surely a lot more that came his way between August and the election, which is still to be reported.
Plus, the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association in the same month that Walker flew off to their Florida convention gave the national Republican Governors Association $25,000 to help sponsor TV ads that supported Walker for governor.
The $84,793 to Walker, incidentally, was nearly half of the $188,423 that the highway lobby contributed to all Wisconsin candidates this past election cycle.
So perhaps Walker isn’t being a naive bullhead after all.
Road builders are a great source for campaign money in these days of expensive elections. Folks who ride trains aren’t likely to be as generous.
Once again, money does the talking.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com