Thursday, November 11, 2010

High Speed Train Wreck

Originally printed in the Fresno Bee.

Just days before Halloween and about a week prior to the general election, the White House announced billions in stimulus spending around the country. These grants, a by-product of the stimulus slush fund created by Congressional Democrats last year, were used to provide last-minute re-election assistance to struggling Democrats.

Republicans, including myself, unanimously opposed passage of the trillion dollar boondoggle that financed these grants. At the time, I told The Bee and others that stimulus spending would not create sustainable employment, which it hasn't, but that it would be used to finance the re-election efforts of Democrats, which it was. The Bee not only failed to report my observations during the stimulus debate, but also failed to report the facts as they unfolded in our own community days before the election.

The president's effort to secure the re-election of Democrats who voted for ObamaCare manifested itself locally in a $715 million grant for high-speed rail in the San Joaquin Valley. The announcement of this funding rightly spurred outrage on the part of fiscal conservatives who not only see the stimulus spending as reckless, but view the high-speed rail project to be inappropriate, given California's financial crisis.

Setting aside the timing and manner in which the funds were awarded, as well as the fact that this spending has driven the national debt to an unprecedented and unsustainable level, it is important to understand the facts about high-speed rail in the San Joaquin Valley.

California's effort to establish a high-speed rail system has been chugging along since 1996 at anything but high speed. The projected cost of the system now exceeds $40 billion, but does anyone believe that this will be the true cost?

In one year, from 2008 to 2009, the High Speed Rail Authority was forced to raise its cost projections from $32.6 to $42.6 billion. Indeed, the final price tag of high-speed rail could easily exceed the combined federal highway spending in California for the 50 years from 1957-2007.

Given the enormous cost increases of California's high-speed rail so far, it is not unreasonable to question whether this project really has the necessary funding. Yet some have suggested that the $715 million grant announcement by the White House solidifies the future of the project. The fine print tells a different story and shows that this enormous undertaking will require billions in bonds, if the state can sell them.

However, even if the funding arrives as planned, Californians are likely to witness obstacles to their first ride on their new bullet train. The nonpartisan state auditor's report on California's High Speed Rail Authority says that the plan "risks delays or an incomplete system because of inadequate planning, weak oversight, and lax contract management."

Recent celebrations over high-speed rail in the Valley should be viewed with skepticism by taxpayers. Particularly when those dollars are promised by the now infamous Dustbowl Democrats who helped take away our region's water supply, decimated our timber industry and fueled a mass exodus of small businesses and entrepreneurs. Indeed, recent years have witnessed high levels of domestic outmigration as long-time residents vote with their feet by leaving the state.

The Bee and other proponents of the high-speed rail plan need to take an honest look at the cost of this plan within the context of the fiscal realities we face. To do otherwise risks a high-speed train wreck of public debt, which may or may not include a completed bullet train.

Now is not the time for fairytales about the future of travel in California, nor is it time to celebrate jobs that have yet to materialize.

The passage of time will tell taxpayers whether they were tricked or treated by President Obama's Halloween surprise. In the meantime, I would hope that Bee writers would refrain from mischaracterizing my remarks in an attempt to blame Republicans in order to protect the Dustbowl Democrats from their own political stunts.