Sunday, November 7, 2010

The end of the Wisconsin high speed rail, job creation and Milwaukee's sports teams
By Evan Weiner

November 7, 2010

(New York, NY) -- Journalism should be about wondering and asking questions. With that in mind, you have to wonder what the owners of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Milwaukee Bucks sports franchises are thinking about the results of last Tuesday’s Election Day in Wisconsin.

Elections have consequences and in Milwaukee, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and Bucks owner (Wisconsin Senator) Herb Kohl must be thinking about how much of a hit their businesses will take because the Republican candidate and now Wisconsin Governor elect Scott Walker didn't like a federal funded high speed train project that would have connected Madison with Milwaukee.

It was a waste of money.

Funny Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower during his two terms between 1953 and 1961 understood the value of infrastructure and built the highway system in the country. The Eisenhower built infrastructure is crumbling from neglect and politicians are killing infrastructure projects that are badly needed because the projects are too costly.

At least that is the reason given.

Draw your own conclusions depending on what side of the aisle or if you are a member of the red or blue team.

Walker apparently isn't a big fan of mass transit based on his eight-year record as Milwaukee County Executive and called the $810 million project a waste of money. Outgoing Democratic Governor Jim Doyle ordered a stop to the project on Thursday which Walker approved. But here is the problem that Walker faces and here is where the Milwaukee business community should be up in arms along with voters. The end of the project will eventually cost Milwaukee construct jobs and probably will end the Spanish construction company Talgo deal with the city to build a Wisconsin headquarters in the city in a shuttered warehouse in a depressed section of town where the trains would be assembled.

The Madison to Milwaukee or Milwaukee to Madison high speed trains would have started operating in 2013. Walker had run on a platform that would create jobs. His decision could ultimately cost Wisconsin 4,000 or so jobs and for sports teams, that means a loss of potential customers in a small market. Walker wants the money for road improvements but the feds want the rail line and the feds were willing to pick up most of the maintenance costs on the rail line.

That is not good for Attanasio's business nor is it good for Kohl's fiscally ailing franchise. But Governor-elect Walker joins another Republican elect governor, Ohio’s John Kasich in killing an infrastructure project. Kasich wants no part of federal money to build the 3C passenger rail route along the I-71 corridor or a high speed rail in his state since he thinks it would not be useful for state residents. The $400 million in federal money will go elsewhere and jobs will be lost. That should not come as good news to the owners of the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Browns, Columbus Blue Jackets, Cincinnati Reds and Cincinnati Bengals. Ohio has a high unemployment rate and a potential job creation by the federal government won't happen.

Republican-elect governors are on a roll since New Jersey's Chris Christie killed a Hudson River rail tunnel because his state could not afford the project that would provide another way of New Jersey residents to go to work in New York City. Christie killed an estimated 6,000 jobs. For some reason, the word “popular” precedes Christie’s name in news articles.

Christie’s team is trying to build a perceived perception in the radio noise chamber, the cable TV claptrap and in political circles. Perceived perception often is more useful than an actual record.

If the goal is to take cars off the road and replacing the ride with high speed trains for people, then the new batch of Republicans aren't playing ball and that is not good for an energy dependent country like the United States

Republicans want smaller government and want to cut government costs but in the end, it is going to impact on businesses. Walker has also sent out a very strange message to Spain. Wisconsin is not open for business. Other countries will take notice. Other states will also take notice. New York Governor elect Andrew Cuomo will gladly take the federal funds for rail development. Say what you want about the Olympics and how political leaders trip all over themselves to kiss the ring of the International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge and IOC delegates but a bid for the Olympics (which may be considered in some cases a loss leader for host countries) does tell the international business community that a region is open for business. Walker has shut the door on a Spanish construction company although he is asking that company to stay in Milwaukee. Meanwhile business is looking to Rio and the 2016 Summer Olympics and the business bazaar that is the Olympics.

There seems to be no reason for Talgo to stick around Milwaukee, much less build a factory in the city.

But there is a new wave of fiscal austerity that has enveloped suddenly scared politicians particularly Republicans who cower to the voices of conservative talk show hosts on radio. Those radio talk show hosts talk a good game but have no idea of how things actually operate. There job is to get their listeners into frenzy and when things go wrong, they absolve themselves of blame as they are only entertainers.

National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern has put on the table the possibility of contracting teams in advance of serious collective bargaining talks between MBA owners and NBA players/. Milwaukee probably would be on that list except for one factor. The team owner is Wisconsin democrat Herb Kohl and it would be tough for a sitting Senator from Wisconsin to fold up his business in Milwaukee because of poor economic conditions. Governor elect Walker needs to create jobs but his first decision may cost Milwaukee and Wisconsin a whole lot of jobs. Sometimes reading the fine print is helpful, Walker apparently didn't realize that a Spanish construction company was part of the deal and that without the rail project, there is no need for that company to build a plant in Milwaukee.

Elections have consequences. Mark Attanasio and Herb Kohl will find that out quickly when there is one less company to buy a luxury box or club seats and there are less workers who can afford to see a Brewers game or a Bucks game or maybe if they are lucky enough, score a ticket to a Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at or amazonkindle. He can be reached at

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