While there are a ton of policies on which local Democrats and Republicans disagree vigorously (from tax reform to health care to climate change to election reform), there is one subject that we didn't expect to become a campaign issue this year: high-speed rail. ...
While there are a ton of policies on which local Democrats and Republicans disagree vigorously (from tax reform to health care to climate change to election reform), there is one subject that we didn't expect to become a campaign issue this year: high-speed rail. But if Monday evening's GOP gubernatorial debate in Springfield was any indication, this initiative could emerge as a divisive topic during the general election.
Asked to comment on the value of the state's $400 million investment in high-speed rail infrastructure, approved as part of the capital bill this spring, four of the six candidates in attendance expressed reservations about the plan.
DuPage County Chair Bob Schillerstrom said he didn't think "we can afford high-speed rail." He added, "I don't think this is the time to even think about spending money on that project" -- a sentiment echoed by former Attorney General Jim Ryan. Adam Andrzejewski laced the proposal as "just another way to try to pave our way to prosperity with short-term jobs" and Dan Proft described it as a "federal boondoggle that has been advanced by the Obama administration ... to misappropriate precious state tax dollars." Proft's line garnered the most applause at the event, suggesting that the party's base isn't too fond of this investment either.
Then there were the answers from State Sens. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and Bill Brady (R-Bloomington). The former was also skeptical, voicing concern about how much the railroads themselves would contribute to an expansion and how fast the trains would eventually travel. The latter was the only candidate attending the forum who enthusiastically backed high-speed rail, saying that Illinois has to "invest in rail if were going to maintain the geographical presence and advantage we have being in the center of this nation." Why are these two responses so interesting? Because just this past spring, it was Dillard who supported the capital bill when it came up for a vote (PDF) in his chamber and Brady who joined with 11 of his colleagues in voting against the plan.
There is certainly space for a Democratic candidate to take ownership over the investment and sell it to voters as both an economic and environmental boon, something none of the candidates even mentioned last night. A Democrat could also campaign on the $322 capital bill investment in CREATE, the promising (but so far unrealized) program to untangle freight congestion in the Chicago region. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier in the year, this problem is so bad that "some freight is taken off trains at one side of the city, driven across town on trucks and placed back on another train."
Now that state and local Springfield officials have cleared up their beef over a proposed Chicago-St. Louis line that would run through the state capitol, it will be interesting to see how this debate plays out on the stump in 2010.