Did the bullet train die in sequester fallout? Maybe. (Hallelujah!)

March 10, 2013

By Chris Reed

train_wreck_num_2The fallout of the sequester continues to be widely discussed, with the conventional wisdom being that President Barack Obama and his political team made a rare and serious miscalculation with their attempts to panic the American public over a 2.4 percent cut in a gigantic, bloated federal budget.

But here in California, there has been no analysis that I’ve seen that notes what post-sequester politics could mean for the MOAB (Mother Of All Boondoggles) that is the California bullet-train project.

In the national press, I have seen several stories that accept as a given that the president won’t try to fight to have the $85 billion in cuts restored with new revenue. Instead, there will be small-ball efforts to change the sequester cuts to make them smarter. And there will be a big-picture focus on trying to craft the old “grand bargain” on entitlement changes paired with tax reform and tax hikes.

Senate Democrats accept spending restraint as given

But having blinked on the sequester, the White House is unlikely to keep fighting for big discretionary domestic spending on stimulus-type (alleged-stimulus-type) programs like federal funding for the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s adventure in the Central Valley. That inclination to spending restraint extends to the Senate. This is from today’s Washington Post:

“Senate Democrats said they were ready to pass a spending measure to pay for day-to-day federal operations through September. The measure would impose automatic cuts of 5 percent to domestic agencies and 7.8 percent to the Pentagon.”

Obviously that is a ploy to get House Republicans to the table because the cut is harsh for their beloved Pentagon. But it implicitly accepts as a given that going forward, domestic spending isn’t going up.

So after the present $3.5 billion in committed federal funding is spent, bye-bye Uncle Sam as source of cash. In the looming, overdue era of budget austerity, lawmakers from 49 states aren’t going to want to print tens of billions of borrowed dollars to help out California.

And since Uncle Sam is the only source of money for the project after California blows through its $9.95 billion in bond funds from the 2008 ballot measure, we’ll have a white-elephant first segment in the Central Valley and nothing more.

Unless, of course, Gov. Jerry Brown finally figures out how insane his beloved project truly is.

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