The train hasn't left the station just yet. But for all intents and purposes as a political matter, it might as well have.
Republican gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker and Mark Neumann are throwing some fiscally conservative red meat to their primary voters by saying they are opposed to the Obama administration's stimulus allocation of $823 million for high-speed rail in Wisconsin if the service will require any government subsidies to operate it.
All public transportation systems require government subsidies.
Still, there is no political down side to Walker and Neumann flashing their fiscal hawk colors to GOP primary voters.
In a practical sense, however, their rhetoric is just that: political. That's because in the real world, there will be nothing they can do to stop the high-speed rail project from going forward in Wisconsin, even if one of them should win the general election in November.
The Democrat-controlled Legislature's Joint Finance Committee gave its blessing to the high-speed rail plan Tuesday, clearing the way for the state to proceed with the groundwork for the track to link Milwaukee and Madison.
Environmental impact work has already begun. Once Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle initiates the bonding for the project and construction begins this summer, the high-speed rail project will be well on its way.
By the time Wisconsin's next governor takes office in January 2011, the controversy will be a moot point.
"For better or worse," the next governor will inherit high-speed rail between Wisconsin's two largest cities and the costs to operate and maintain the new line, a prominent GOP legislator told BizTimes Milwaukee this week.
"It's a done deal. There's no way an incoming governor could revoke the state's bonds or stop a project like this halfway and leave it sit there," said a GOP source.
According to an analysis by BizTimes, the annual state government subsidy needed to operate high-speed in Wisconsin is estimated to be about $15.6 million. The next edition of BizTimes Milwaukee magazine on Friday will feature an in-depth report about the future of the state's mass transit infrastructure.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.