Friday, November 25, 2011

Having a Tea Party in the Club Car of High-Speed Rail

The Tea Party website, from which this article comes, and the Occupy Wall Street movements are both peoples' protest movements and they mostly object to the way the government has become ever less responsive to the people who elected their representatives who make up that government.

These two movements may be at the opposite poles of the political spectrum, but insofar as they function in similar ways and have similar goals; seeking to be heard responsively by the government, I strongly concur with both.

In this article, please note that the Tea Party position which, while supporting this new effort on the part of the California Republican House caucus to stop HSR for a serious reality check, is not without some criticism about that process.  They ask why these Representatives, John Campbell in particular, have waited so long.  

Fair question.  There has been ample critical information available since before the Prop. 1A elections which kicked off this project. Now, three years later, when it's less than a year before construction commences, opposing Republican Representatives are becoming pro-actively hostile to HSR and finally getting their act together.

I certainly don't wish to appear ungrateful, but I must say that I've known that this project was a disaster waiting to happen since 2004.  And, I'm certainly not the first or the best informed critic.  Where was our opposing political party then?  How hard did they work to prevent the passage of Proposition 1A by exposing this project for the fraud that it is?

In other words, while I agree with this challenge by this Tea Party questioner, I will try to put oil on troubled waters by saying, well, better late than never.  I just hope that these new efforts are not too late.

The second earlier article, below, from the LA Times, talks about the Republican interest in "clawing-back" the committed and now fully obligated $3.9 billion from the FRA.  At this point, it's a stretch to consider this as a serious possibility.  Or, to put it another way, it would be a miracle if that happened, leaving the CHSRA with no federal funds whatsoever.  I'm not a religious person, but this is certainly something to pray for.

California Congressmen Work to Slow Down High Speed Rail
November 24, 2011 at 12:47 am

News by Greyson Peltier

High Speed Rail projects have been on the radars of many states and the federal government. The State of California is no exception with $3.6 billion set aside for its high speed rail projects. Proponents want to add this public transportation option in order to increase use and reduce air pollution.

Opponents argue that the costs are too high and there is much uncertainty as to how many people will ride the new trains. Most complete high speed rail projects are overseas in China and France and some complain that the US is too far behind. However, at a time where tax revenues are decreasing and the government is operating on a deficit, others believe that these projects need to be reevaluated to ensure that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA22) and his cosponsors Reps. Brian Bilbray [R-CA50], Jeff Denham [R-CA19], Walter Herger [R-CA2], Duncan Hunter [R-CA52], Darrell Issa [R-CA49], Tom McClintock [R-CA4], Howard McKeon [R-CA25] and John Campbell [R-CA48] want the high speed rail project in California put on hold for further review and audits. They have introduced HR 3143, which would require a Government Accountability Office analysis of the project, as well as reviews of ridership estimates, estimated ticket prices and other projections prior to the project starting. The bill would pull back $2.9 billion in obligated federal funding as well as $715 million in unobligated federal funding. “Responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars is always important, and now more than ever,” Rep. McCarthy said. “We cannot afford to throw money we don’t have at a project most don’t have confidence in. That’s why I introduced this legislation, so we can take a step back and figure out what high-speed rail really means for taxpayers.”

Cosponsor John Campbell agrees with his assertions. “With all the current examples of taxpayer money being squandered on politically correct projects that have little chance of success, we should absolutely not be wasting even more money on a very expensive high-speed train from nowhere to nowhere,” said Congressman Campbell.

Tea Party Patriots local coordinator Cathy Richardson believes in the content of the legislation, but questions why Rep. John Campbell did not act sooner on the legislation and whether or not it can make it past committee. “Congressman Campbell does as he pleases and sees fit. Did he take the time to talk to his constituents on this subject matter? He has not had a town hall with his constituents for over 3+ years which is a shame. Also, it would have been nice for the Congressmen to vocally support the CA state legislators much earlier who have been trying for some time to derail the high speed rail. What are the chances this legislation will get out of committee and be voted for in time? How hard has he worked on this bill? Is it all for show?” says Richardson.

The bill was assigned to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on October 7th.

Congressional Republicans want to take back high-speed rail funds
California's Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy argue that the project is deeply flawed. They want as much as $3.3 billion in federal grants held back.

By Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times
November 23, 2011

California's proposed bullet train, the nation's largest public infrastructure project, has become the focus of an intense federal funding battle that could undermine its survival, as Republican leaders in Congress attempt to claw back as much as $3.3 billion in federal grants already approved for the start of construction next year.

The case against the bullet train is being led by a group of California Republicans, including Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), the House majority whip, who have argued the project is deeply flawed and has become unaffordable as the cost has spiraled to $98.5 billion.

Denham, a subcommittee chairman on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he believes all of the project's grants can be rescinded by Congress and should be reallocated to highway construction in the Central Valley. Republican staffers are formulating plans to grab the bullet train money, which they said has not been spent or put under contract.

"We can't afford it when we have a $15-trillion debt that continues to grow and California is broke," Denham said. "The cost of it continues to balloon out of control with no private investors willing to put money into it."

The threat is serious enough that the Obama administration, which strongly backs high-speed rail development, is attempting to secure the money for the California project through a step known as "obligating."

On Tuesday, the California High Speed Rail Authority said it had signed a cooperative agreement with the Federal Railroad Administration that "secures" through the obligation process remaining portions of the $3.3 billion needed to start construction. That action covers $928 million set aside for the project last year.

The agreement shows that the state's funding to start construction "is identified, committed and we are moving forward," said Thomas J. Umberg, chairman of the rail authority.

Denham said he doubts that obligating money that hasn't actually been spent can stop Congress from recouping the funds.

Any attempt to take back the federal money would face an uphill fight in the Democratic-controlled Senate. But the effort demonstrates the growing opposition to the California project by House Republicans, and weakening support across the board.

Denham once voted for the bullet train as a state senator but now says the program's worsening outlook makes it a "bait and switch." And last week, both houses of Congress voted to strip all high-speed rail funds from 2012 spending legislation.

If California were to lose the money, it could put the project — the only remaining high-speed train proposal in the country — in jeopardy. State voters approved a $9-billion bond for the project in 2008, based on a commitment that federal and private money would pay the balance.

Gov. Jerry Brown said he intends to ask the Legislature to provide approvals necessary to start construction next year. The state plans to start building an initial 130-mile segment of track from Chowchilla to Bakersfield next year with $6 billion, including $3.3 billion in federal money and $2.7 billion from the bonds. The completed system, stretching from the Bay Area to Southern California, is supposed to begin operating in 2033.

Brown has said that a new business plan released this month by the California High Speed Rail Authority provides a sound blueprint for moving forward with the project and issuing the state bonds. In Brown's view, the bullet train will lay a foundation for economic growth with a transportation system that can accommodate millions of additional Californians in future decades.

The bullet train has been largely exempt from congressional oversight. Next month, however, a federal spotlight will be turned on the project for the first time when the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee convenes an oversight hearing.

House Republicans see the bullet train as poorly planned and out of control. McCarthy has introduced legislation that would freeze federal funding for the project and subject it to a comprehensive federal audit.

Even if the House were to rescind all or a portion of the California funding, the U.S. Senate would have to agree. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been a resolute supporter of the project. One political strategy that has surfaced to entice votes from East Coast Senate Democrats is to propose reallocating the California funds to passenger rail projects in their states.

The upcoming House hearing will be chaired by Rep. John Mika (R-Fla.). Mika has often expressed support for the concept of high-speed rail, citing the East Coast as having the necessary population density and urban environment to support it. California officials say Mika supports high-speed rail, but he has never endorsed the state's project and now appears to have joined the skeptics.

In a statement, Mika did not rule out an effort to take back the California money, saying he "is reserving judgment." But an aide on Mika's committee said, "Any money that would come back to Washington would be much better spent by bringing high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor."

[PS: Since the publication of this article, the LA Times has apologized for it's misspellling of Mica's name.]
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

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