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Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010

Issue/Event of the Week: Grassroots Support for Rail

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Gov.-elect Scott Walker may be too busy furthering his political career at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Southern California to worry about the concerns of average Milwaukeeans. But he should listen to them. About 200 rallied at Talgo’s headquarters on Monday to ask Walker to reconsider his decision to prevent the federal government from investing $810 million in Wisconsin in the form of high-speed rail. If the project goes bust, there go Talgo’s headquarters, construction jobs and the tax revenue the project would generate for the state’s coffers.

Some of the jabs at Walker were funny. State Sen. Spencer Coggs, who represents the district that includes the Talgo site, brought a gift card from Wisconsin Vision Optical Center because the governor-elect is “shortsighted.”

He wondered, “Who in their right mind gives away $810 million?”

Walker, that’s who.

Others took a more serious tone. Rev. Ken Wheeler, representing MICAH, said the Talgo investment is important because it represents the resurrection of the former home of A.O. Smith and Tower Automotive and “the key to success for African Americans.”

Rev. Wheeler asked Walker to “utilize common sense” and not merely be the governor for the wealthy.

“Invest your moral chips for once—for once—on the side of the workers,” Wheeler said.

Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said Walker’s opposition to rail is creating “outrage across the state,” since state taxpayers would have to refund about $100 million if the train project is halted here and moved to another state. Walker is coming into office with an estimated $3 billion deficit and essential services like education face drastic cuts. Kraig said killing the project would only make the state’s fiscal situation worse while boosting another state’s economy—Illinois’ economy, for example.

“Why would we pay to give jobs to another state?” Kraig asked.

Walker hasn’t come up with a good answer for that yet.

Of course, the governor-elect is welcome to attend next week’s candlelight vigil to save Wisconsin’s jobs and Talgo, to be held at Talgo’s 27th Street parking lots between Hopkins and Townsend. The event will be held at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 23, and is sponsored by the Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Coalition.

Hopefully Walker will come to terms with the fact that, despite his opposition to high-speed rail and his campaign rhetoric, it is too costly in terms of job loss and repayment of the $100 million to walk away from the project.

Heroes of the Week

Elliott and Lisa Torrence

Local entrepreneurs Elliott and Lisa Torrence believe in giving back to the community. The owners of Torrence’s House of Threads (7732 W. Burleigh St. and 4722 W. Fond du Lac Ave.) recently celebrated their 10th year in business—and since the beginning, they have used their success as a springboard to help enrich the community.

In addition to performing charitable work with their local church, the Torrences also donate clothing items to winter clothes drives and “Back to School” and “Dress for Success” programs. They recently partnered with Running Rebels, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, to provide clothing and guidance to high-school students who want to attend college. We applaud Elliott and Lisa Torrence for providing an outstanding example of a local business giving back to the community.

Jerks of the Week

U.S. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, Paul Ryan and Tom Petri

Why are Republicans lining up to cut jobs in our state? Wisconsin has always been a state that paid much more in federal taxes than it received in federal payments back to the state. Southern states with many military bases have always received the most federal dollars. And now when Wisconsin finally wins one, Republican congressmen are trying to give back the money. Wisconsin’s Republican congressmen are stepping into the high-speed rail debate with a proposed bill that would allow states to return their high-speed rail money to the federal government to reduce the deficit. So this Republican trio believes that Wisconsin should return an $810 million investment in the state’s transportation infrastructure—and the jobs and tax base it’ll produce—to provide a fraction of a reduction in the nation’s $1.6 trillion deficit and $13.8 trillion debt? If these three men were truly concerned about the deficit, they would not have been so eager to support the war in Iraq, which along with the war in Afghanistan has cost the country more than $1.1 trillion, according to the National Priorities Project. Wisconsin’s share of that cost? More than $17 billion—or about 20 times the cost of high-speed rail. They also claim that Wisconsin is being told by “bureaucrats in Washington how to allocate their resources,” but they neglect to mention that Wisconsin applied for these funds because the state would become a vital link in a 21st-century Midwestern transportation hub.

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