The Wisconsin Legislature’s financial committee voted Tuesday to accept more than $8 million in federal stimulus money to create a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee.
The Joint Committee on Finance voted to approve the funding along partisan lines in a 12-4 vote, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans voting against the project.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama pledged $8 billion in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to fund high-speed rail projects across the country, including Wisconsin.
A large part of Wisconsin’s $810 million portion of the money would go to create a line between Madison and Milwaukee. An additional $12 million would go toward improving the existing rail line between Chicago and Milwaukee, and $1 million would be allocated to a planning study on the feasibility of eventually extending the line from Madison to the Twin Cities, according to a statement by Gov. Jim Doyle.
Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz spoke of his support of the rail line at a press conference Tuesday. He said he supports the proposal because of the economic development and thousands of jobs it will bring to the state.
“This is a significant issue for Wisconsin,” Cieslewicz said. “It’s creating long-term economic strength.”
Although Cieslewicz praised Doyle’s support on securing the funding, he criticized Milwaukee County Executive and Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker’s disapproval of the project.
Cieslewicz added if the state Legislature did not accept the funding for this project, the money would just go to another state and Wisconsin would lose out on an economic opportunity.
“If you’re a friend of labor or anyone who wants to work in the economy, you’ll understand Scott Walker just doesn’t get it,” Cieslewicz said.
Dane County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott McDonell also criticized Republican legislators for not supporting the funding.
McDonell said Wisconsin and the rest of the country are losing the economic battle between America, Europe and Asia because both of those continents have invested in high-speed rail and health care.
“Today’s Republicans seem to be against transport in all its forms,” McDonell said. “[High-speed rail is] a huge boost to this economy and the Midwest in general.”
Doyle said in a statement that he is grateful to legislators for recognizing the long-term economic gains from the project.
Jill Bader, Walker’s spokesperson, said in an e-mail to The Badger Herald that Walker has concerns about accepting the federal money when the state already has a $2 billion budget deficit.
“I’m still waiting to see all those jobs and projects already promised to us from the stimulus, so I’m doubtful our state should accept yet another big check from Washington,” Walker said in a statement. “It’s reckless for Gov. Doyle… to commit Wisconsin families to footing the bill for the ongoing costs of a rail line without even knowing the full price tag or the effect it will have on our already stressed transportation fund.”