Sunday, December 2, 2012

On The Tollway To Hell

As soon as Walker invaded the governors mansion in 2011, the first thing he did was start giving away money like crazy to his campaign contributors, even though they didn't need it.

Then after having tossed hundreds of millions of dollars away, he claimed that there was a sudden need to cut spending and proceeded to pass the illegal and unconstitutional Act 10, forcing public sector employees to carry the brunt of his largesse.

For those of us in Milwaukee, this was sickening, but not surprising.

As County Executive, Walker would often use an artificially constructed emergency, when he didn't just flat out lie about it, in order to manipulate people and events to accomplish his end goal, which all too often involved the lay off of workers, cutting of services and/or privatizing services.

Now we are seeing the same thing in regards to the zoo interchange in Milwaukee.

Even as Walker is trying to get people to believe that his (really ALEC's) agenda is working and that the state is on track to see record amounts of revenue, he sends his hand-picked crony, Mark Gottlieb, out to tell us that we now suddenly don't have enough money and that the reconstruction of the zoo interchange, along with other projects, will have to be delayed. He then went to great pains to make sure that everyone understood that the delays will increase the cost of these projects.

Now keep in mind that not only has Walker been boasting of a pretend surplus and increased revenues, last year he increased the amount of money in the transportation fund and then kicked transit out so that the road builders, to whom Walker owes so much, could have bigger slices of the bigger pie.

All of this is rather ironic, considering that Walker used the poor shape of the zoo interchange to hammer his opponent, Tom Barrett, even though Barrett had no control over the interchange.

On cue, the concern trolls, like James Wigderson and Owen Robinson, come out and state that the reconstruction must go on.

And now we are seeing members of the business sector chiming in on how we need to find more revenue for the road builders, whether it would mean creating tollways or starting to charge drivers by the mile.

The option of charging drivers by the mile is a straw man argument. People, especially people who drive for a living and sportsmen and women who like to drive up to their cottages for hunting and fishing, will raise their voice in protest. Also, some wag will point out that this wouldn't be fair since it wouldn't force out of state drivers to share our pain.

To help increase the pressure to get the tollway plan approved, Walker created this artificial budgetary crisis. On top of that, already knowing he was going to need to ask the tax payers or more money, Walker allows the project to start, putting up new traffic lights and screwing around with traffic patterns, so that the people start demanding that things finish quickly to minimize their inconvenience.

If this push for toll roads sounds familiar, it should.

I told you about it more than a year ago. I told how Walker had been beating around the bush during his campaign.

I also had told the gentle reader about the "report" from the Bradley Foundation's front group, WPRI, which called for toll roads, or more accurately, tax roads.

Expect the push to become even harder in the near future. To understand why, just follow the money. We already know about the road builders buying Walker's favor. But with the toll roads, it could make their money look like chump change:
Fifty years to the day after Ike put his pen to the Highway Act, another Republican signed off on another historic highway project. On June 29, 2006, Mitch Daniels, the former Bush administration official turned governor of Indiana, was greeted with a round of applause as he stepped into a conference room packed with reporters and state lawmakers. The last of eight wire transfers had landed in the state's account, making it official: Indiana had received $3.8 billion from a foreign consortium made up of the Spanish construction firm Cintra and the Macquarie Infrastructure Group (MIG) of Australia, and in exchange the state would hand over operation of the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road for the next 75 years. The arrangement would yield hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks for the consortium, which also received immunity from most local and state taxes in its contract with Indiana. And, of course, the consortium would collect all the tolls, which it was allowed to raise to levels far beyond what Hoosiers had been used to. By one calculation, the Toll Road would generate more than $11 billion over the 75-year life of the contract, a nice return on MIG-Cintra's $3.8 billion investment.

The deal to privatize the Toll Road had been almost a year in the making. Proponents celebrated it as a no-pain, all-gain way to off-load maintenance expenses and mobilize new highway-building funds without raising taxes. Opponents lambasted it as a major turn toward handing the nation's common property over to private firms, and at fire-sale prices to boot.

The one thing everyone agreed on was that the Indiana deal was just a prelude to a host of such efforts to come. Across the nation, there is now talk of privatizing everything from the New York Thruway to the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey turnpikes, as well as of inviting the private sector to build and operate highways and bridges from Alabama to Alaska. More than 20 states have enacted legislation allowing public-private partnerships, or P3s, to run highways. Robert Poole, the founder of the libertarian Reason Foundation and a longtime privatization advocate, estimates that some $25 billion in public-private highway deals are in the works—a remarkable figure given that as of 1991, the total cost of the interstate highway system was estimated at $128.9 billion.

On the same day the Indiana Toll Road deal closed, another Australian toll road operator, Transurban, paid more than half a billion dollars for a 99-year lease on Virginia's Pocahontas Parkway, and the Texas Transportation Commission green-lighted a $1.3 billion bid by Cintra and construction behemoth Zachry Construction to build and operate a 40-mile toll road out of Austin. Many similar deals are now on the horizon, and MIG and Cintra are often part of them. So is Goldman Sachs, the huge Wall Street firm that has played a remarkable role advising states on how to structure privatization deals—even while positioning itself to invest in the toll road market.
The article then goes on with the key paragraph:
Goldman Sachs' role has not been lost on skeptics, who accuse the firm of playing both sides of the fence. "In essence, they're double-dipping," says Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a truckers' group that opposes toll road privatization. "They're basically in the middle, playing one side against the other, and it's really, really lucrative."
With that kind of money floating around (and that was ten years ago) and given the way we know that Walker operates, thanks to Walkergate, one could imagine the money he'd hoped to gain for either a presidential run or to keep his butt out of jail, whichever comes first.

It should also be noted that the cost for Walker's pandering to his corporate sponsors will not only fall on the toll/tax payers.

The zoo interchange in particular will go a long way to ostracize the African American community, which is what is prompting a number of environmental and racial equality advocacy groups have joined with the ACLU to file a lawsuit to stop all the money being channeled into the interchange project while they are slashing funding for transit, which tens of thousands of people rely on to get to work, school or anywhere else.

Lisa Kaiser of the Shepherd Express does her usual excellent work of explaining who gets hurt and how this has become a systematic problem.

In summary, Walker has created an artificial crisis regarding the zoo interchange and other road projects. His corporate sponsors and apologists will then argue for a toll road system* to pay for this sudden, but false, need, in order to, y'know, create jobs.

 With Teapublicans controlling both houses, this will get rammed through with a lot of finger pointing at former Governor Jim Doyle, unions, Muslims or any other person or group, no matter how nonsensical their attacks are.   Suddenly, you will see teahadists and Teapublicans telling us how we need to raise this new form of tax to help create jobs.

And again, the people get the royal screwing over.

And that's when you'll know you're really in Fitzwalkerstan.

On the bright side, the people of Wisconsin will become much more familiar with the back roads of the state.

*Contrary to their public statements otherwise, Teapublicans are all for taxes on two grounds: 1) They benefit from them and no one else does; and 2) They don't have to pay them and everyone else does.


  1. What this article fails to mention is that just five years after Indiana sold off its toll roads, it had to buy them back, at twice the cost, because their was NO upkeep and huge toll hikes. Jan Brewer did the same thing in Phoenix when she "sold off" three state buildings, only to have to buy them back, two years later, at twice the cost, all the while claiming she saved money in the deal. Right.

  2. When driving from Madison to southeastern Wisconsin I always take the old highways. I get to see the beautiful countryside at a more leisurely pace and patronize some excellent small town cafes and coffee shops. Best of all: No FIBS.

  3. Tolls can only be instituted on NEW federal highways and must get approval from the federal government to implement. Therefore, tolls to pay for roads cannot be seriously considered any time soon.

    1. Two things: One, when did Walker and his gang ever worry about the rules. See Family Care and his illegal cap. Two, there are a lot of work being schedule on the major highways, including I-94 from Milwaukee to the state line, I-90 from Madison to the state line and elsewhere. They will work on the work around with these.

  4. I've looked into Indiana's toll road and it's still in private hands. But even more outrageous, while Republicans like Mitch Daniels love the deal, they've essentially left our kids and their kids the burden of crushing tolls. It could be seen as massive tax increase on future generations left by Republicans who are basking in the glow of tax savings in a lucrative lease deal for current users.

  5. Could this be part of the reason the tea-party groups are against high speed or any speed, rail? If people have an alternative mode of transportation, they don't have to pay the tolls, which would cut into their revenue?

  6. This on top of We Energies playing the part of Enron when they buy our power plants next year. It might be time to move.

  7. Funny how the right wing like to stick it to regular people with tolls payable to the private sector or unelected quasi-governmental authorities, yet the private sector roads and administrators are exempted from taxes. However, back in the old days, railroads (private sector) had to pay property taxes on their infrastructure while roads and airports were exempted. This process diminished the competitiveness of passenger rail and helped destroy rail transportation in the US. A privatized toll road with no transportation alternatives, mass or public transportation is the right wing monopoly capitalist's wet dream.

    Of course to the right wing idiots, a "fee" or a "toll" is not a tax, despite the fact it comes out of the same pocket and pays for a necessary service.