Bullet train fans learn CA enviros’ clout trumps building, trades unions

A few years ago, I began to think about how California’s state government operated in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a famous 1943 paper about how humans prioritize what’s important in their lives, starting with the basics — the physical requirements for survival — and moving up a list to the need at the top: self-actualization. That last part is a little too New Age-y for me, but as an intellectual exercise in trying to think about human motivations, Maslow’s hierarchy is darn smart.

My hierarchical theory for Sacramento goes like this:

Teacher unions > trial lawyers > environmentalists > other unions > Latino causes > gay causes > business interests > African-American causes > disabled causes.

It’s not a hierachy of needs, it’s a hierarchy of power. I think it goes a long way toward explaining how decisions are made by the Legislature.

Why teachers will eventually bail on bullet train as well

This is why I always assumed the bullet train would die before much of it was completed. If there were no funding from any source but the state government, then teachers unions — as a rival for state funds — would turn on the project. That there would be a lack of funding from anyone but state government has looked to be the case since 2010, when the LAO made clear that revenue guarantees were tantamount to promises of subsidies if things went bad, and thus were illegal under state law and couldn’t be offered to potential investors.

Here’s my piece from early 2012 in the L.A. Daily News headlined “How the teacher unions will kill the bullet train.”

But as it turned out, it wasn’t the teacher unions who first reminded bullet train advocates of Sacramento’s hierarchy of power. It was the environmentalists, as AP reported Friday afternoon, who are letting building and trades unions know their place in the state budget pecking order:

“SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to redirect $250 million from California’s landmark effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and spend it instead on his beleaguered bullet train has renewed debate about the future of the contentious project.

“In defending that part of the budget proposal he released this week, Brown pitched the $68 billion rail line as the perfect way to unite a fractured state and help California ‘pull together to form a greater community.’

“His proposal does appear to be uniting many lawmakers and interest groups, but perhaps not in the way the governor intended. Some Democrats who have supported high-speed rail have joined their Republican colleagues in rejecting Brown’s funding idea, and environmental groups are lukewarm at best on it.

“They say the money should be used to improve California’s air quality today and not go to a project that is decades away from being finished, if it is ever built at all.”

Sayonara, bullet train. It’s good to see you go. And, no, it hasn’t been fun while it lasted.

10 comments

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  1. Bill Gore
    Bill Gore 11 January, 2014, 09:39

    Nice concept on Maslow’s Hierarchy. I have noticed, and you probably have too, that in San Diego (and increasingly nationwide) a successful career as a democratic pol depends on choosing the perfect combination of identity group AND environmentalist credentials. Much like the egg roll in a chinese restaurant combo menu, environmentalist is NOT optional, as in “you can have 2 from group A plus egg roll, or 1 from group A and one from group B, plus egg roll”…

    So a powerful candidate might be a gay latino single mom labor AND environmental activist….What’s important here is that your personal story as a candidate reflect ‘struggle’, a political theme that was introduced by Mao, all the better to play against the ‘privileged fatcat’ republican.

    Reply this comment
  2. LetitCollapse
    LetitCollapse 11 January, 2014, 12:10

    You forgot a huge link in the power structure – namely BIG BUSINESS.

    You don’t think the big banks and insurance companies don’t control what goes on inside our state legislature? lol.

    That’s one reason I think it’s premature to write off the bullet train. There’s way too much sugar daddy money floating around. And where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    I fully agree that the bullet train would be a complete waste of money and resources. More insanity. I saw Brown on TV the other day trying to compare it to the building of the Panama Canal!!! LOL!!!

    Look, the government convinced (brainwashed) the voters into believing that Prop 30 was a great deal. And the voters rewarded the government for being totally incompetent by opening up their pocketbooks and giving them more revenue. lol. And it passed by 54% to 46%!!!! LOL!!!

    NOTHING is outside the realm of possiblity in this State. Nothing. Don’t EVER underestimate the power of the State legislature, the influence of big business sugar daddies, the effectiveness of the media propoganda machine, the stupidity of the California voter or the fickle nature of the state judiciary.

    The bullet train sustained a right uppercut and was wobbled against the ropes. But I believe it will regain it’s composure and continue to fight.

    It’s not over by a long shot.

    Reply this comment
  3. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 11 January, 2014, 20:27

    Amazing….breathless from the never ending bashing and dooming….

    Reply this comment
  4. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 12 January, 2014, 01:00

    Teacher unions > trial lawyers > environmentalists > other unions > Latino causes > gay causes > business interests > African-American causes > disabled causes. It’s not a hierachy of needs, it’s a hierarchy of power. I think it goes a long way toward explaining how decisions are made by the Legislature.

    The CCPOA, the prison guards unions, would have to come right after the teachers union/s. In fact ALL public employee unions would have to come first, as a collective group.

    Reply this comment
  5. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 12 January, 2014, 01:46

    Rexie…..get some rest Bro…….your incoherent!

    Reply this comment
  6. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 12 January, 2014, 21:18

    YOUR like my two room school marm…..my MO……drives Doomers in Quartz Hill and Mojave nuts!

    Reply this comment
    • Rex the Wonder Dog!
      Rex the Wonder Dog! 13 January, 2014, 11:16

      YOUR like my two room school marm…..my MO……drives Doomers in Quartz Hill and Mojave nuts!

      YOU’RE beyond hope Teddy 🙂

      BTW what is a “school marm”???? I don’t believe for a second you ever went to school 🙂

      Reply this comment
    • Rex the Wonder Dog!
      Rex the Wonder Dog! 13 January, 2014, 11:17

      It’s actually “schoolmarm”, and way before my time 😉

      Reply this comment
  7. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 13 January, 2014, 19:55

    Rexie thanks…… appreciate the English primers from a true intellectual.

    Reply this comment

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