Dishonesty of bullet-train camp is striking

by Chris Reed | September 1, 2013 6:10 am

Robert Cruickshank’s California High Speed Rail Blog[1], which gets thousands of hits a month, always amazes me when I look at it because of how he uses MSNBC/national media talking points about opposition to President Obama’s policies to describe critics of the state’s bullet-train project. They’re obstructionist evil people who hate change, etc. They’re never principled people who genuinely think something is a bad idea.

cahsr_0But I ventured to the blog this weekend and gave it a good look after reading Steve Greenhut’s piece for Reason[2] in which he mentioned that Cruickshank appeared to think Gov. Jerry Brown would just defy the courts if they continued to hold that the project didn’t have sufficient funding in hand and hadn’t completed sufficient environmental reviews to break ground, as Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny concluded in an Aug. 16 decision. (Some breaking news from a case insider: On Nov. 8, a “remedies” hearing will be held at which Kenny and attorneys involved in the case discuss the rail authority’s response to his ruling.)

To Cruickshank’s credit, he appears to realize the grim implications of Kenny’s ruling. In his first post[3] after the decision, he says the judge has not decided to block the project “for now.” But why does he say Kenny found the project wanting under state law?

“… the California high speed rail project, and the CHSRA, are being held responsible for the actions of Congressional Republicans. It is they who are blocking further federal funding for high speed rail, jeopardizing the federal contributions identified in the 2012 Business Plan – exactly the shortcoming that Judge Kenny used as the centerpiece of his ruling.”

Why would other 49 states subsidize CA’s costly project?

But just because a state agency’s business plan says the federal government will fork over tens of billions of dollars doesn’t mean that will happen. There is only one major bullet-train project going forward in the U.S., and it is here in California. Why would the other 49 states want to subsidize an in-state rail line for the 50th state?

And it’s not just House Republicans who aren’t fans. Earlier this year, it was Senate Democrats.

patty-murray-campaignAs I wrote in March[4], the budget that Senate Democrats have embraced contains so little discretionary funding for California’s bullet-train project that it is impossible to see how the $68 billion project ever gets done.

“But here’s an interesting twist. The primary author of the budget — Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash. — is so down on the Obama administration’s bullet train initiative that she tried to kill it in 2011. This is from a Sept. 21, 2011, AP story[5]:

‘WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-led Senate Appropriations Committee has voted to provide $100 million to build high-speed rail lines, a small portion of what President Barack Obama has proposed for one of his economic priorities.

“The panel voted by voice Wednesday to include the money in a $110 billion transportation and housing bill for next year.

‘Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the bill’s author, included nothing for high-speed rail in the original measure, citing budget constraints.

‘But senators backed an amendment by No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois adding the money. He said it would be paid for with unspent money from past home district projects called earmarks.’”

State voters never told project depended on immense federal $

Yo, Robert, nice attempt to spin Congress’ balking at a unilateral gift to the Golden State as about House GOP obstructionism.

yes-prop-1There’s also this flaw in Cruickshank’s argument. What matters isn’t the rail authority’s 2012 fantasy business plan. It’s what state voters were told in 2008 when they approved Proposition 1A and provided $9.95 billion in bond seed money for the project. They were promised that private investors would be eager to partner with the state, which has proven completely wrong. They weren’t told the project couldn’t even finish its initial operating segment without vast federal subsidies.

It’s easy to find other Cruickshank whoppers. In this Aug. 26 post[6], he insinuates that since bullet train critics didn’t like the project when it was expected to be much cheaper, that somehow shows they’re irrational and can never be trusted to support wise public policy.

“It’s also hard to envision critics suddenly changing their tune. They objected when the cost was pegged at $33 billion in 2008 and it’s unlikely any system connecting SF to LA could ever be built for less.”

Yo, Robert, the main reason they objected to the reasonably priced $33 billion project IS THAT THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE FOR A SECOND IT WOULD ONLY COST $33 BILLION!

Antis’ $90 billion estimate way closer than $33 billion

This is from the first paragraph of the rebuttal argument from the voters guide[7] for the November 2008 bullet-train initiative:

“The whole project could cost $90 billion—the most expensive railroad in history. No one really knows how much this will ultimately cost. Taxpayers will foot this bill—it’s not ‘free money.'”

The $90 billion guess was prescient. Back when the state actually was considering high-speed rail all the way from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles, the cost estimate was $98 billion. The only reason it went down to $68 billion is that the Brown administration now only contemplates high-speed rail from San Jose to the northern L.A. suburbs.

If dishonesty were a crime, Robert Cruickshank would be fighting to stay off Death Row.

  1. California High Speed Rail Blog:
  2. piece for Reason:
  3. first post:
  4. March:
  5. Sept. 21, 2011, AP story:
  6. Aug. 26 post:
  7. voters guide:

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