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State lawmakers accept $822 million to build new high-speed rail line

Wisconsin lawmakers voted Tuesday, Feb. 16, to accept $822 million in federal stimulus cash to build the proposed high-speed passenger rail line from Milwaukee to Madison.

The Joint Finance Committee voted 12 to 4 in favor, as Republicans questioned the need for the train. But the GOP did support track improvements to speed up Amtrak's existing passenger line from Milwaukee to Chicago.

About $12 million will be used to improve the tracks enough to eventually speed up the current Hiawatha line from 79 mph to 110 mph. The rest will be used to develop a line from Wisconsin's largest city to its state capital, with stops in Brookfield, Oconomowoc and Watertown.

The Doyle administration first said the project would create 13,000 construction jobs at various times during construction. But officials said only 4,700 people would be employed at any one time - and once the train gets going in 2013, about 55 people will be needed to run it.

Also today, the finance committee voted 12 to 4 for a temporary health plan for about 21,000 childless adults on the waiting list for BadgerCare Plus. The basic plan will cost users $130 a month, and except for a $1 million federal grant, no tax money is expected to run it.

In addition, the finance panel voted 15 to 1 to let people of all income levels convert traditional IRA's to Roth IRA's without penalty. It would bring Wisconsin in line with federal policies.