Trophy train project, legacy for lawmakers

July 9, 2012

By Katy Grimes

SACRAMENTO — After listening to two days last week of floor debate in the California Assembly and Senate, it became painfully obvious that the vote on the state’s high-speed train was nothing more than a legacy vote for politicians.

Passage of SB 1029 approved $8 billion for high speed rail, and transfers control of funding and local transportation projects to the High Speed Rail Authority until 2018.

The bullet train is merely a political victory, and not really about California’s transportation needs. It is also a victory, and a gigantic gift, to labor unions.

Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Los Angeles, claimed that building the high-speed train system would be the answer to the state’s economic crisis. And he wasn’t alone in this claim. Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, said that the state would reap tax revenue for putting people back to work.

But at what cost?

Blumenfield also claimed, “With lower construction costs, we will get more for our dollars. Rail is the least expensive option,” as opposed to adding lanes to freeways, or runways to airports.

During Assembly and Senate floor debate and speeches, Democrats repeatedly said, “This is our moment.” They talked of the significance of voting for the biggest infrastructure project in California history. And they blathered incessantly of their own importance in voting for the project.

Lawmakers also talked about how high-speed rail is predominantly used in Europe, but ignored that 90 percent of Europe is in the middle of a very serious financial crisis, largely because of runaway subsidies and entitlements.

“Japan has high-speed rail. Bulgaria has high-speed rail,” Blumenfield said. He even said that Bulgaria was laughing at us because we don’t have a bullet train.

But Blumentield neglected to divulge how bad Bulgaria’s economy is.

“According to Ivan Krastev, a Bulgarian analyst, optimistic forecasters had the big hope 20 years ago that Bulgaria might become like Greece,” The Economist recently reported. “That is to say, ‘moderately democratic, but moderately corrupt.’ Now, he says, they hope that Greece may become like Bulgaria: poor, but financially disciplined and not making too big a mess for others.”

“So far Bulgaria has weathered the economic and euro crisis. Unemployment has crept up to 12 percent, but that is half the levels in Greece and Serbia. Over a million Bulgarians are thought to live abroad, working especially in Spain and Greece,” the story reported.

But, they have high-speed rail.

Blumenfield erroneously claimed that “revenues generated from this project will more than pay for bond debt.” But as with the highly suspect ridership estimates, claims of revenue generation from the train system are dubious–especially given the nearly 100 percent subsidies required for every other high-speed train system in the world.

And then there were the patently absurd comments: “Cars represent the past,” said Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-San Pedro.

Denial: the elephant in the room

What Democrats refused to talk about was the cost to taxpayers, or the other programs that will have to be cut to pay for the behemoth train system.

“A recent Field Poll found that voters are connecting the dots from debt to taxes much quicker than their elected officials,” Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point said in a Flash Report op-ed. Harkey has been consistent with her warnings about the real cost of high-speed rail to California taxpayers. She has presented facts, studies, and real cost numbers, but her warnings have been ignored.

“Governor Brown and many Sacramento Democrats seem unable to set priorities even though the state is bankrupt, boasts the lowest credit rating in the nation, must borrow $10 billion for short-term cash flow needs, while cutting public safety dollars and practicing ‘catch and release’ for state prisoners,” Harkey said. “We rank near the bottom of the 50 states in public education achievement and the Sacramento solution is to realign that function and implement trigger cuts IF voters don’t agree to raise taxes in November.  But, billions in debt funding for one hundred miles of track with no train, no ridership and no cost analysis is still on the table.”

 Premature celebration

The post-high-speed rail vote celebration on Friday by Democrats should tell voters everything they need to know before voting in November. California’s elected politicians are celebrating bankrupting California.

“Rather than dealing with the issues before us, the legislative Democrats are just piling on the debt, without any regard for those who will have to pay back this money and how it will impact schools, health care programs, and public safety,” said Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale.

LaMalfa has commented many times about the moving target of the high-speed rail budget, and the growing price tag. “In 2008, it was $34 billion; 2009, $43 billion; 2011, it was $98.5 billion, and somehow dropped to $68-$75 billion,” La Malfa recently told me. But even with a $68 billion price tag, there is a $54.60 billion gap between the $9.9 billion in bonds voters approved in 2008, and the total estimated cost.

LaMalfa asked his colleagues Friday to vote to put high-speed rail back on the ballot so that voters could have another chance to speak. But his motion was killed by Senate Democrats along party lines.

California is a fiscal mess

Consider this:

* Unemployment is still 10.8 percent in California, and as high as 20 percent in some Central Valley counties.

* 34 percent of the nation’s welfare is distributed in California.

* Crucial state infrastructure is deteriorating. Highways, freeways, roads, public schools, bridges, water storage and levies, have all been largely ignored by state officials, despite collecting taxes for these.

* The California public employee pension system is currently underwater by half a trillion dollars.

* The state’s K-12 educational system sits at the bottom of the nation in performance and test scores. The governor’s education cuts include shortening the public school year by three weeks.

* California is a safe-haven for illegal immigrants. There is even talk in the Legislature of declaring California a “sanctuary state.”

California was once the envy of the nation; now it is a cesspool of corruption, destroyed by soulless Democrats and cowardly Republicans.

California politicians won’t spend the funds collected from taxpayers to maintain the many crumbling roads and bridges used by millions of drivers every day. Maintenance apparently doesn’t buy votes. Instead, politicians voted last week to spend tens of billions of dollars to build a bullet train in the Central Valley that won’t be used by many people.

The numerous lawsuits against high-speed rail will continue, and could put a wrench in construction plans. And the ballot initiative to kill high-speed rail and stop the state from collecting and spending high-speed rail bond money, was approved for signature gathering.

Backers of the initiative say it could still stop construction crews from breaking ground in Fresno later this year. Despite that, the repeal initiative won’t be on the ballot until 2014.

Legislative celebrations were premature

Some are suggesting that an amendment to the California Constitution could be the result of this vote, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for any project that costs more than $1 billion, and/or takes more than 2 years to complete.

“On the same week we have new survey results that highlight the link between voters’ declining support for new taxes should High-Speed Rail be forced upon us, the legislative Democrats have done precisely that–forced High-Speed Rail upon us,” said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

“The voters want a do-over on High-Speed Rail, but the Democrats blocked legislation for a new  HSR ballot measure. The voters want pension reform, but the Democrats have blocked an up-or-down vote on their own governor’s plan.”

The polls also continue to show us that California voters don’t like the trigger cuts to education, but the Democrats have are threatening the public with exactly those cuts should voters not agree to their tax increase,” Huff continued. “Closing schools for three weeks, while spending $8 billion on 130 miles of train tracks, defies logic and is irresponsible.”

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, one of four Democrats to vote against the bill, had one of the most reasoned arguments: “We’re getting an upgraded Amtrak in the Central Valley for $6 billion.”

15 comments

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  1. Donkey
    Donkey 9 July, 2012, 10:19

    How about finishing the 605 and 710 freeways to the high desert before we build trains that will do nothing to improve mobility.

    Thanks for the info Katy! 🙂

    Reply this comment
  2. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 9 July, 2012, 10:30

    60% of CA does not want this scam……………………FACT!

    Reply this comment
  3. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 9 July, 2012, 10:30

    The west coast version of the “Big Dig” 🙁

    Reply this comment
  4. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 9 July, 2012, 10:49

    THe Golden Zephyr is the best for Donkey from Oatman….

    Think on it….you can go to pleasure packed Madera on vacation. Or….go see the weirdos in expensive Sf.

    Reply this comment
  5. K. Trinity
    K. Trinity 9 July, 2012, 14:24

    We talk a lot about the unreasonable financial cost of this high speed rail project and that is valid. However, let’s also consider the human cost in the number of homes, businesses and farming lands that will be lost. On top of all that, what about the vast number of residential communities who will have to live with the stress of 70 or more decibels of noise every five minutes by the twelve trains per hour required to break even? Do we have rights anymore?
    Finally, train routes were introduced in Europe in the mid 1800’s without great disruption because towns were clustered. California’s sprawl has grown too much to make a bullet train feasible at this point, at least not with the current plan.

    Reply this comment
  6. Hondo
    Hondo 9 July, 2012, 14:31

    I am stunned by this vote. There is no way to economically build the thing and it takes huge amounts of needed money from more pressing issues, like schools. It makes no sense, except to Democrats from Kalifornia.
    Fast and furious, the running of guns to the drug cartels in Mexico, had similar logic, none at all. Yet they went with it.
    I can’t figure these democrats out and I used to be one. Does any of these current democrats remember reading about Harry Truman and the Truman commission in world war 2? How he took dead aim at waste and fraud during the war. That kind of thinking is unthinkable now in Kalifornia.
    Hondo……

    Reply this comment
  7. NorCalSaint
    NorCalSaint 9 July, 2012, 14:33

    Who plans to travel on this train? a) consumers, b) taxpayers or c) politicians, the elite and their cronies. C is the winner in my book. This train has no other purpose than to serve politicians and the elite. Outside of a CA bond and FED subsidies (fiat money created by the FED) where will the remaining funds come from to complete this illogical monstrosity. Maybe, from homeowner property taxes?

    Reply this comment
  8. Queeg
    Queeg 9 July, 2012, 17:49

    It will carry Fed Ex, UPS, POSTAL mail and parcels.

    Also, LTL short distance freight.

    Drunken parties and weirdo weddings.

    Reply this comment
  9. Travel on the Choo Choo
    Travel on the Choo Choo 9 July, 2012, 21:04

    NorCalSaint:

    There is no way that “politicians, the elite and their cronies” are going to take a train. They fly (often in private planes) and will generally continue to do so. Some politicians might take the train initially but eventually will revert back to the 70 minute SW flight from Burbank or L.A. to Sacramento and back.

    I expect many of the early users will be people going to visit family members in Corcoran State Prison. The High Speed Rail Authority will probably provide discount tickets to these travelers.

    Reply this comment
  10. BobA in San D
    BobA in San D 10 July, 2012, 10:22

    The likely outcome will be that California declares bankruptcy before the first mile of this monument to liberal vanity is finished and given the dire financial straits the federal government is in, I seriously doubt if the feds can spare the change to bail the state out of it’s predicament.

    That means taxes and fees will have to be raised or the project will have to be abandoned altogether. California tax payers will still be on the hook for the money already wasted.

    The proposed bond sales to finance this monument is a joke on the face of it. What sane person would buy a California state issued bond knowing that the state is perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy?

    Reply this comment
  11. Skep41
    Skep41 10 July, 2012, 11:24

    “But Blumentield neglected to divulge how bad Bulgaria’s economy is.” Japan’s stagnant economy is nothing to write home about either. I cant believe these idiots think that having a passenger train run between LA and SF will affect the economy at all. How? You can buy a round-trip plane ticket for fifty bucks. How much is the Bullet Train going to cost?

    Reply this comment
  12. Bill Hough
    Bill Hough 10 July, 2012, 12:28

    When pro-transit commentators point out problems with the proposed California high speed rail system, you know it’s flawed. How bad is it? Read this:
    http://www.publictransit.us/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=302&Itemid=1

    Reply this comment
  13. Afi K. James
    Afi K. James 10 July, 2012, 15:41

    This article is the truth here.

    Reply this comment
  14. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 10 July, 2012, 22:57

    San Bernardino files for bankruptcy protection!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    THE SKY JUST FELL TEDDY 😉

    Reply this comment
  15. Charlemagne
    Charlemagne 11 July, 2012, 18:16

    The head of the HSR Authority says that, even if the entire system is never completed, these “train to nowhere” segments will be able to stand by themselves.
    (???)
    Well, dingbat, since you’d never be able to achieve top speed for very long on these segments, doesn’t the whole concept of “High Speed Rail” fall apart?

    This is a very big clue that tells us that the whole idea has nothing to do with “progress” and everything to do with (once again) “redistributing” taxpayers’ wealth among their political allies (i.e. the GD vampire unions!!!!)

    Reply this comment

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