“Intercity Transportation is Key to Economic Prosperity”
By: State Representative David Crowley
So, we’ve got the jobs…now how do we access them? Scott Walker has said time and time again that his goal is to create jobs in Wisconsin, yet he continuously fails to understand a basic need of our workforce to access those jobs: access to convenient and reliable public transportation.
This month, the State Legislature and Governor Walker allocated a $3 billion “incentive package” to Foxconn without realizing that this massive package would not be necessary if Wisconsin could supply what job-creators are looking for: a sound public transit system so the job ready workers can access the vacant jobs that already exist. As businesses like Amazon consider Milwaukee or Madison as potential locations for their new headquarters, we have to ask: what puts our city at a disadvantage? The answer is clear: the lack of a robust public transportation system that can connect people to employment opportunities.
Foxconn promises to create 13,000 jobs, but many of the Wisconsinites who are ready and willing to fill those positions will be unable to reach these potential jobs because they can’t get there. Those who would gain the most from increased investment in Wisconsin are unable to reap the benefits promised by the Governor if no steps are taken to increase access to these opportunities. Studies demonstrate a measurable link between public transportation availability and upward economic mobility. People who lack access to a car, or who are unable to drive, are limited in their choices of healthcare providers, child care providers, educational opportunities, and employment. Enhancing our public transportation network will ensure that our residents can make the right choice for their needs, and will have access to the jobs that will be created by attracting high-tech manufacturing employers.
Employers looking to invest in a new location will examine all the factors that go into running a successful enterprise. Ease of access for employees and clients, commute times, and labor supply are all considered before making a final decision. Access to public transportation heavily influences these factors. Workers who spend time in stressful, lengthy commutes are less productive, and labor shortages increase expenditures on wages. The lack of a healthy public transportation network reduces the attractiveness of Wisconsin, and especially Milwaukee, as an investment location.
When Governor Walker made the decision to reject nearly a billion dollars in federal funding for a high speed train connecting Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, and eventually the Twin Cities, he did so on the false notion that an investment of $30 million over 20 years was too high a price for Wisconsin taxpayers to shoulder. Governor Walker was not moved by evidence showing that this rail line would have led to jobs, economic development, and decreased wear and tear on our already worn-down roads. Studies conducted since Governor Walker’s rejection have shown that for every $1 billion invested in public transportation, 50,000 jobs are created. So, instead of paying $30 million over 20 years for a high speed rail line, and reaping the associated benefits up and down the line, we are subsidizing a foreign manufacturing company to the tune of $3 billion, an investment that will not be fully realized until 2042, and only then if it creates all of the promised 13,000 jobs. Wisconsin’s deficient intercity connections are noted by investors, and our citizens continue to pay for the lack of foresight exhibited seven years ago.
If Wisconsin is to get the most out of the Foxconn deal and attract further investment, it will need to invest in transportation networks that connect its labor force to those jobs. Wisconsin will be able to reduce inequality, diversify the choices available to students, patients, and workers, and create a business friendly environment. Creating and expanding our intercity public transportation system is key to our economic growth. We must allow counties to form Regional Transit Authorities, giving them the power to create intercity transportation that would allow underemployed workforces to have a viable transportation option to fill the jobs in places that cannot find a skilled workforce. Also, it is time to invest in the Midwest’s first high-speed rail, setting Wisconsin apart from our neighboring states when it comes to attracting future economic development and retaining our current employers.
Seven years ago, Scott Walker rejected a sound plan for intercity transportation. He took away progress towards a public transit system that held so much promise for economic prosperity. He took away the convenience of an affordable alternative to get thousands of Wisconsinites to jobs near and far in a safe, reliable manner. And he did so with all the benefits of a high-speed rail staring him in the eye.
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17th Assembly District
State Capitol Room 5 North • PO Box 8952 • Madison, WI 53708
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