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Railing Against Big Government

Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker said no to Obama. But the taxpayer didn’t win.

Dec 20, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 14 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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How will people get from Milwaukee to Madison? Most of them will probably continue to make the hour-long drive on Interstate 94, just as they would have if the train had been built. Others will take the Badger Bus—an upscale coach service (with WiFi) that does the round-trip for $35.

And what did Wisconsin avoid? It’s hard to know exactly. But recent developments in Minneapolis might provide a clue. Last year saw the completion of the “Northstar,” a 41-mile commuter rail from Big Lake, Minnesota, to Minneapolis. It was touted, with Field of Dreams expectations, as the answer to the area’s commuter woes. Train proponents dismissed skeptics as unimaginative grumps who couldn’t understand how popular the train would become. 

So Minnesota built it. But they didn’t come—at least not in the numbers the state had projected. Ridership is 20 percent lower than estimates—and fewer riders mean fewer operating dollars. (Those numbers might actually be atypically high, as the Minnesota Twins’ successful season accounted for some of the ridership.) 

“That’s not how we built our expectations,” Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Oh well. Might be a warning.

Rick Scott, the Republican governor-elect in Florida, also ran opposing high-speed rail for his state. He has not yet rejected the federal funds altogether, but has said he is committed to preventing Floridians from paying later for a train built with stimulus funds now. Good luck with that. 

Florida’s share is another $1.2 billion. In all, that’s $2.4 billion in potential savings that the administration is determined to spend despite the fact that those closest to the projects don’t want them. 

The political implications of the disputes are huge: Ohio decided the 2004 election, Florida decided 2000. And though Wisconsin had been trending Democratic, it voted overwhelmingly Republican in November. 

If the next election is, like the last one, a referendum on Washington, high-speed trains could be the third rail for the Obama administration.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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