Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
The following appears in the latest edition of the
Taxpayers taken for a ride, a ride that is now ending
By Sen. Alberta Darling (R-8th District)
and Rep. Robin Vos (R-63rd District)
This past session, we spent a lot of time fixing the mess former Gov. Jim Doyle and the Democrats made when they were in power. From filling a $3.6 billion deficit to repaying the Injured Victims Compensation Fund that he raided, we've made it our goal to protect taxpayers form the bad decisions made in years past. As the chairs of the budget-writing Joint Committee on Finance, it is our job to be responsible stewards with the generous money taxpayers provide the state.
The no-bid Talgo Inc. contract was astonishingly irresponsible, even by Doyle and the Democrats' fiscal standards. Shortly after a hastily announced jaunt to
The more we found out, the less there was to like. The deal was sold as a $47.1 million contract, but the actual cost was closer to $70 million. Those trains were meant to be built for a less than high-speed rail line between
Since the trains wouldn't be used for the
We made the decision in the Joint Finance Committee like any family would–by looking at the numbers. In early December, the committee passed a motion to ask the Department of Transportation for a full analysis of the taxpayer cost of running the Talgo trains and opening a permanent maintenance facility for 20 years vs. the cost of running the current Amtrak trains. the difference made decisions easy for
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated that Talgo trains would cost taxpayers $10 million more each year for the next 20 years. we didn't believe it was wise to throw $200 million taxpayer dollars at a bad project. The state would be bound by contract to have a more frequent maintenance schedule than Amtrak, instantly inflating the cost of operations by 3%. These new Talgo trains have to be serviced every other day. The current Amtrak trains are maintained on a set schedule and on an as-needed basis, similar to how you maintain your own car.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates the cost to operate the new trains would be $5.1 million higher. However, that's assuming the same number of people ride the trains. However, the Talgo trains are smaller. In addition,
Now you have to add the required construction costs of the maintenance facility. The capital costs would add $5 million annually to the state's bill. That brings the total cost to $10 million each year for the next 20 years - $200 million that can be better spent elsewhere.
For those who currently ride the Amtrak train, this decision means you will see no difference with your service. However, if we would've chosen the more expensive route, riders of the new trains could potentially see fare hikes, less seating on the train and this popular line suddenly becomes less attractive. It's a gamble we were not willing to take.
Luckily, the state has options. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, if no funds were given for the Talgo maintenance facility, the "agreement can be terminated by either party." So that's where we are now. The state will go back to the table with Talgo and try to work out a better deal than the no-bid one they received in the final days of the Doyle administration.
Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) are co-chairs of
the Joint Finance Committee.
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