Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is "Free Money" Free? "Neat-O" v. "Need"

Jim Stingl kinda likes the choochoo. (See below for sensible update)

The high-speed rail plan was chugging along, and then Governor-elect Scott Walker said not so fast, locomotive breath.

He wants it dead, even if it means handing back the $810 million in federal stimulus money and letting other states use the grant to improve their own rail transportation system

...I say take the money, take the train, take the jobs.

Well, Jim's a nice guy and all, but...

There is no such thing as a free lunch, Jim. First off, somebody (see: Taxpayer, U.S.) is paying for it, and that includes 3++ million Wisconsin residents.

Second: every Federal program carries hooks and traps which require State spending AND require State conformance to Federal dictates. The choochoo, for example, will require that the State spend a bunch of money to subsidize rides. And some local gummints (see, e.g., Brookfield, Watertown, Madison) will be required to put up millions to construct stations (to Federal specs) and to maintain those stations (to Federal specs.)

Third: the Feds often change their specs and demand that the States pick up the cost of the changes. Maybe 100% of the costs, maybe 20% of the costs. But it's a cost.

Fourth: the Feds may change their "minds" at any time about their contribution. "So sorry. We're cutting back. YOU pick up the difference."


Forget, for the moment, the alleged merits (or de-merits) of the train. Think, instead, of "what do we really NEED" from the Government(s). Not "what would be really neat-o" nor "what would be nice." What do we need?

The choochoo, like a number of other neat-o projects, can be reviewed in 2, 5, or 20 years.

The national debt, on the other hand, cannot be reviewed. It ain't an option to make the payments.

Ask anyone with a mortgage.


More from the NEWisconsin pundit:

...What is taxpayer-responsible about wasting money? What is taxpayer-responsible about empty trains running from downtown Madison to downtown Milwaukee to the other, sucking up millions of your taxpayer dollars each year, whether or not you actually ride the train? What is taxpayer-responsible about taxpayer dollars being used to fund theoretical jobs that, even if they are created, will go away after construction?

Happy to note that "responsibility" occurs to more than one pundit!

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