Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Return of the Shark: Walker hits the ground running

This has probably been my longest hiatus from blogging but I didn't want to have take sides in the recent midterm elections.

Or, of you don't believe that, I have just completed a month or so of a series of outside events and dead tree writing, including talks in Southern California, western Virginia and New York City. Throw that in with the ordinary course of business and some personal issues and there has been no time to blog. I am happy to report that the polity seems to have thrived without me.

Still, its time to come back. My impressions on the rise of the Tea Party and its influence on the midterms will be forthcoming in the WI Interest. What I find intriguing is that, before the celebratory hangovers had even subsided, Scott Walker made high speed rail the first issue of his nascenct administration.

I've written in the Journal Sentinel that the debate over high speed rail frustrates me. Advocates are almost never willing to address the real economic issues in proposed systems. Analyses have shown that commuter rail is almost never economically justified on a wide variety of measures. This is not the same as saying that it does not "pay for itself." Generally speaking, what it costs (from all sources) exceeds its benefits (to all beneficiaries).

This shouldn't surprise us. Rail is an outmoded technology. It is good at moving large quantities of people or things between two fixed points. It may still work well when there are large numbers who wish to travel between those two points and then, upon arrival, go nowhere other than to another fixed point served by the rail line or some extended system of transportation that it is not too inconvenient or inexpensive.

In contemporary America, this is rarely so. So advocates must accept magical numbers regarding ridership or economic benefit to justify proposed systems.

Or, as with the train proposed to run from Milwaukee to Madison, they regard federal funds as free money. We don't hear much about why it makes sense to spend over $ 800 million dollars on a train that few people can be expected to ride. It is, we hear, "free money" since it comes from the federal government.

I suppose, although there is still the almost certain cost overruns and operating expenses (which may or may not be subsidized). But there is a certain peversity in that view. I tis precisely what leads to unchecked and irresponsible spending as every one wants to get part of the money that no one would actually spend were it her own.

That Scott Walker is refusing to play this game suggests that he may be a different type of Governor.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I will spend $100 million and throw 4700 people out of work rather than obligate the State to spend $750,000 a year on subsidizing this boondoggle. It's the principle of the thing. I'm saving money! Why am I reminded of when my wife comes home with five shopping bags and says, "Honey, you'll never guess how much money I saved today!"?

Jee-zus. What we can look forward to now. Were math classes any part of Scott Walker's 2.9 GPA at Marquette? Could someone give him a class in remedial math?

The cost to the State of maintaining the high-speed train, even if it does turn out to be $7.5 million a year rather than $750,000, as is far more likely, is miniscule in relation to Wisconsin's total transportation budget. And one shouldn't look at the train from Milwaukee to Madison in isolation, although there are a lot of folks coming home from Badger games to Brookfield who probably shouldn't be driving and who are more likely to take a train than the Badger Bus. If you view it as an extension of the Hiawatha to Chicago, which is amply used, and a first step toward high-speed rail to the Twin Cities, it makes a lot of sense. Airfare to Minneapolis is really expensive, and the drive is long and tiring. A high-speed train to the Twin Cities would be fantastic, and would be well used.

But, no, thanks to Scott "2.9" Walker, we're not going to have high-speed rail. We're more like North Dakota than New York or California.

And, if he has his druthers, it's going to stay that way.

Anonymous said...

The Milwaukee to Madison train was planned for the liberal elite and Walker is right to bury it now.

Old timers remember that the light rail systems in Wisconsin when they grew up out lived there usefulness and were put out of everyones misery.

The liberal elite wants everyone to pay for their perks and will do and say anything to get it.

Walker is doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

That Scott Walker is refusing to play this game suggests that he may be a different type of Governor.

Wow. Koop Aid, anyone?

Different, of course, when you exclude every other newly-elected GOP governor in any state that was awarded money for a rail project.

And only when you don't like the results do economic projections become "magical.". How about projections from Walker that cutting taxes will improve the state's ability to fill a $3 billion budget hole? I guess that's more like voodoo.

Pete Gruett said...

This neatly illustrates the two dishonest arguments Walker's partisans use to justify what he's doing. The first is that this has anything to do with fiscal responsibility. The second is that this has anything to do with the relative economic merits of rail.

Neither Scott Walker nor anyone else ever suggested giving this money back to the treasury so whether or not it's "free" is irrelevant. It's going to be spent and Walker's doing his best to ensure that it's not spent here.

The money was a competitively-awarded federal grant for commuter rail. Walker at least should have known that there was no realistic chance it could ever be spent on anything else. If we'd said we wanted to spend the money on roads, we'd never have gotten the grant in the first place. The time to discuss the relative economic benefits of rail was before the money was appropriated. It's entirely irrelevant now as the money will be spent, on rail, somewhere.

So Walker's choice is to allow the construction of a federally-funded piece of infrastructure here or flush nearly a billion dollars down the toilet to spite the "liberal elite" bogeyman his partisans have constructed. At least he'll have Rick Esenberg to keep making pathetic excuses for it.

Dad29 said...

You ought to know about semi-honest posts, and I'll leave dissecting your blather to others--if they want to bother.

So Walker's choice is to allow the construction of a federally-funded piece of infrastructure here or flush nearly a billion dollars down the toilet to spite the "liberal elite" bogeyman his partisans have constructed.

Perhaps it WILL be 'flushed down the toilet.' It will also be a campaign advertisement in the successful effort to make Obama the second one-term (D) in 50 years.

Anonymous said...

No, it won't (be flushed down the toilet). If we don't spend the money here Pat Quinn is happy to take it and spend it in Illinois, to build a high-speed train from Chicago to St. Louis. If you've ever driven that long tedious stretch of corn fields you might concur in the need. Or Andrew Cuomo will be happy to take it and spend it on a high-speed train from New York to Montreal and Toronto. The jobs, the money, the improved infrastructure will go to Illinois, or New York. Or Florida, or California. Wisconsin will lose jobs, will lose possible state-of-the-art infrastructure. And money. We'll have to refund the Treasury what has been spent to date, and pay damages for breach of contract.

But maybe, just maybe, there will be a political advantage to the Republicans by disadvantaging the State of Wisconsin. Scott Walker may be able to score a political point against Obama. Who cares about actual benefit or detriment to the State of Wisconsin -- as long as there is a political benefit to the Republicans? Destroy Obama in 2012, no matter what it costs the country or the State. That is the goal. Right, Dad?

Anonymous said...

"Rail is an outmoded technology." That's why China, the world's fastest-growing economy, plans to double its high-speed rail network, already the world's largest, by 2020, and spend $300 billion doing so. Everyone knows the Chinese are so . . . retrograde. They should come here to Wisconsin and study technology from our new Gov. He'll teach 'em.

Jay Bullock said...

We don't hear much about why it makes sense to spend over $ 800 million dollars on a train that few people can be expected to ride. It is, we hear, "free money" since it comes from the federal government.
That money is Wisconsin taxpayers' money: We currently get back something like 86 cents of every dollar we send to Washington, and this grant was a good way to get some of that other 14% back put some people here to work, attract businesses that would otherwise set up elsewhere.

That Walker wants to let that money--our money--go to Illinois or New York or some other state gives me no confidence that he can be any kind of effective voice for this state on the national stage.

Dad29 said...

If you've ever driven that long tedious stretch

Several times, round-trip, on MY schedule. And as a bonus, I got to my destination, which was NOT downtown StL, on my schedule, too!!

The jobs, the money, the improved infrastructure will go to Illinois, or New York. Or Florida, or California

All 20 full-time choochoo station jobs.

All the maintenance and subsidization expenses.

All the really-neato new tracks and ties!

What a deal!

And don't bet that Florida will take that deal. California will be BK 20 years before the choochoo is complete, and its successors, Nevafornia and Orecal, will decline the honors, too. Or maybe it will be Mexico, in which case the druglords will have another transportation modus.

New York. Who cares?

As to Illinois: they need more liabilities. I understand there's a Mafia bank that will help with those.

Dad29 said...

and this grant was a good way to get some of that other 14% back put some people here to work, attract businesses that would otherwise set up elsewhere

And YOU assume that a responsible budget committee in the House will not simply rescission the money.

Foolish assumption.

Anonymous said...

Dad, let me explain how legislation works in the United States Congress. For a bill to become law, it must be passed by both Houses, and signed into law by the President (unless he vetoes it, and his veto is overriden by both Houses). Budget committees in the House of Representatives can't just "rescission" appropriations that have already been made.

AnotherTosaVoter said...

"Advocates are almost never willing to address the real economic issues in proposed systems"

Do advocates of freeways ever address their significant economic issues, especially the externalities?

Jay Bullock said...

And YOU assume that a responsible budget committee in the House will not simply rescission the money.
Wait, this is Congress we're talking about, right? So that's a joke?

gnarlytrombone said...

Frédéric Bastiat predicted the natural, totally-not-subsidized evolution to the car-centric ideal in his 1838 treatise, Laissez-faire et la graisse banlieusard gueulard Américaine dans son habitat naturel.

John Foust said...

No, ATV and GT: There's never any reason to justify endless socialist road construction and re-construction, as people need to be able to get whereever they want to go, as quickly as possible, as this is Natural Law and their God-given right. "You'll pay to get what you really want" only applies to goods and services that are controlled by large corporations in the general marketplace, not that provided by big corporations who survive on government contracts.

Zignego, for example, thrives on big contracts and stimulus money, then donates a fractionto conservative candidates. Who can forget all the criticism by conservatives of Zignego's role in absorbing government pork?

Dad29 said...

Budget committees in the House of Representatives can't just "rescission" appropriations that have already been made

Even conceding your point, they CAN delete any further funding from the next budget.

And (as recently proven) they CAN re-direct allotted but un-spent funds to OTHER projects. Ask Tom Barrett and Scott Walker about busses.

Anonymous said...

But you know what, Dad? Budget committees contain representatives from places like Illinois and New York and California and Florida. In fact those four states are each rather populous and have a lot of representatives. So if allocated funds get snapped up by other states, because we don't want to build high-speed rail here, how likely do you think the Illinois and New York and California and Florida Congressional delegations will be to say, oh, that's OK, we'll give you that money back, for Wisconsin roads, not rail, and we'll cancel our own high-speed rail projects?

Like that is going to happen, ever.

Dad29 said...

We won't talk about short-sights, except to remark that you'd make a fine quarter-to-quarter CEO.

You might have noticed that the Budget Committee will be chaired by a Wisconsin guy.

Don't bet against Ryan any more than you bet against Walker. It's a good way to lose.