Tilting at windmills: Real Debate edition

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.

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8 thoughts on “Tilting at windmills: Real Debate edition

  1. It’s not exactly a “no-bid deal” anyway, considering the WI DoT sent inquiries to seven manufacturers and only one of them could meet the specification.

    In fact, that the DoT sent out the inquiries indicates that it would have preferred competitive bidding, notwithstanding the statutory exemption.

    A more interesting question might be: Were the specs tailored to exclude the other six manufacturers by incorporating an engineering feature that only Talgo could provide.

  2. I think people no longer know the difference between ethics and legality as both have fallen from favor.

    True story and I was there: The CEO of a medical division of a Fortune 100 company slams his fist on the table and says: “I don’t care what the law says, I want to know if they enforce it.”

    Now you know what ‘No Boundaries’ really means in corporate speak.

  3. 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.

    The answer, in the right side of the Great Cheddar Ball, is because Doyle is a Democrat. If Doyle was seen with Jesus Christ, they would crucify Him on the cross all over again.

    But for Dooley answering your question, don’t count on it. That would require too much introspection.

  4. Okay, I just read the “Real Debate” thread.

    “[A] Milwaukee company was completely ignored.” — Fred

    What in the world is this guy talking about? Super Steel, for example, doesn’t compete with Talgo. Super Steel is a fabricator for the likes of Talgo and Talgo’s competitors. Is this the same Fred who’s a top spokesman for a leading Republican “think tank”?

    1. I was thinking the same thing, iT. Apparently it’s lost on Fred that Talgo would actually contract with a company like Super Steel to make the trains.

  5. ummm…it’s time to FORGET ABOUT THE TRAINS!!!!! We’re in difficult economic times and all our Gov can do is think up ways to spend money, offshore because obviously, the money just COULDN’T be spent here to help the economy and create/hold jobs..OHHHHH NOOO!!!!!

    1. Hey Scoobs…you know these trains will likely be built here in Wisconsin, in all likelihood by a Wisconsin company like Super Steel.

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