A couple of weeks ago, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle announced an agreement with the Spanish train manufacturer Talgo to put two trains into service in Wisconsin on the Amtrak Hiawatha line. Under the terms of the agreement, Wisconsin will purchase two 14-car trains for $47 million, with an option to buy two additional trains if the state receives federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for the extension of passenger rail service from Milwaukee to Madison.
Predictably, at least one conservative – in this case, Fred Dooley – is tilting at windmills, asking the following questions:
1. On what authority can the State of Wisconsin spend $47 million without offering a project up for bid? (Especially to companies already doing business in Wisconsin)
2. How did Talgo gain such an advantage in this process? Were excessive campaign contributions made?
3. If stimulus dollars were really for “shovel ready” projects, how can millions of stimulus dollars be committed for a project that does not even have a basic usage study associated with it?
Yesterday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provided the answers to Fred Dooley’s questions. The no-bid deal was allowed under a 12-year-old law proposed by then-Gov. Tommy G. Thompson and enacted by a Democratic-controlled Senate and GOP-led Assembly. The law exempts all of the state’s passenger rail contracts from normal bidding rules. According to DoT general counsel Robert Jambois, the DoT asked seven major train manufacturers – four from Europe and three from Asia – for information on their ability to provide the trains, but only Spanish train manufacturer Talgo submitted a formal detailed response.
When confronted with the fact that the state did nothing wrong in awarding the no-bid contract to Talgo, Fred Dooley predictably changed approaches, arguing the contract was, “Perhaps legal Zach but completely unethical.” What I’m wondering how awarding a contract in accordance with state law is unethical…perhaps that’s a question Fred Dooley can answer for me.