Wisconsin Republican leaders unified in opposition to train

Republicans control the Legislature and if they do not agree to state funding for the rail line, it could doom the project.
Amtrak train
Amtrak train(KFYR)
Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 1:21 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican leader of the Wisconsin Senate said Thursday that he opposes spending any state money to help Madison bring a passenger rail line that would connect the capital city to Milwaukee, joining the state’s other top GOP legislative leader in opposition to the project.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu told The Associated Press that he opposes state funding for the project but had not been briefed by Madison city leaders on what they were attempting. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was blunt last week when asked about it, saying only “No state funding.”

“I don’t think it makes sense to build a rail, even if it’s mostly through federal money, if we’re stuck on the hook subsidizing it for the next 30 years,” LeMahieu said, agreeing with Vos.

Republicans control the Legislature and if they do not agree to state funding for the rail line, it could doom the nascent project, which is envisioned as an expansion between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota. Former Gov. Scott Walker, also a Republican, opposed a similar rail line when he ran for governor in 2010 and then killed the project, which would have been funded with $810 million from the federal government.

Walker made similar arguments then, saying the state would be left footing costs for a rail line that few people would use.

“I don’t think the numbers really worked then and I know there are a lot of people that commute between the two cities, but it seems like anytime there’s a huge project like that ... there’s always cost overruns and then the state’s stuck subsidizing it for forever,” LeMahieu said.

Madison officials have been talking about building a rail line connecting the capital with Milwaukee, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) to the east. Madison hopes to tap part of more than $100 billion in federal funding for rail lines that was included in a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Congress passed in 2021 and President Joe Biden signed.

City officials told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that early stages of the project would not require state funding. But Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway also told the newspaper that she hoped the project would be done in collaboration with the state as part of a bigger vision for passenger rail in Wisconsin.

Rhodes-Conway didn’t immediately respond to a Thursday message seeking comment.

Madison officials have held meetings to gather input from residents about where they would like train stations to be located.