Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Liberal Press - The Washington Post - Comes Around Regarding California High Speed Rail

On the ninth, I posted an article from The Washington Post. Here's another one, an editorial from the Post on the fourteenth. If you're not surprised, you should be.

The Post is a Democratic newspaper. Democrats love HSR, from the President on down to our local politicians, who, even in the face of compelling empirical evidence to the contrary, continue to support a project about which they haven't a clue. They have no idea how to pay for it, and one would be led to believe, they don't care. How's that for political leadership and responsibility?

Then there's the question about why all the rest of us taxpayers ought to be paying for a luxury train only the well-to-do can afford to ride.  Even Mr. Rossi, the new HSR hotshot on the Board, evades answering this point, and the Board keeps pretending that everyone in this state is desperate to have this train. The fact is, most people don't know about it or if they do, they don't care one way or the other.  They don't realize of course, where all those billions are going to come from.

We've become familiar with the numbers and how they don't add up. We've become familiar with the flip-flopping of concepts and routes, as political pressures demand. The rail authority and their employees are well aware of the situation and know the truth about the funding and financing. They are probably not sleeping well these days.

Let me be a mind-reader for a minute and get into the heads of the CHSRA Board and staff. They are seeking to create a permanent HSR empire in California. They intend to process billions of dollars, free or borrowed, year after year. This is a lifetime job if their play their cards right. Whether they actually finish this train in 2033 or 3033 isn't that important. What's important is to keep this project process alive and well. And, they are doing just fine. Remember the key mantra of this blog: It's not about the train; it's about the money.

The rail authority is ignoring any laws that get in the way of their tactics and strategies. "So, sue us." The courts will only find the defendants guilty (or deficient) on their most clear and most obvious legal failings. They have the full weight of the Administration in Washington and in Sacramento behind them. When Dan Walters calls the arrogant, as we all have, it's because they have no substantive oversight and their accountability, like the CEQA laws, are almost a sham.

Whatever they produce, they either review and certify it themselves or it's reviewed by Democrats who know there's a line drawn in the sand. That line is defined by the FRA-awarded ARRA funds. And those dollars have been, more than anything, political pork. No wonder they're arrogant.

But, you know the old saying; give them enough rope. . . . . . .

So, keep your eye on the press and on the Congress. That's where the action is and will be.

By the way, the Post article makes the point about how the Nation's taxpayers will be responsible for the bulk of the support for this California luxury train. I'm waiting to hear the cries of protest coming from the rest of the country as they figure out what's in store for them, as California sucks federal dollars from the US Treasury to build its toy train for the affluent. That's the kind of slap in the face that should be heard loud and clear in the White House.

Jim Harnett, who sits on the CHSRA Board and is from the Peninsula, has written an article in The San Jose Mercury News. <http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_19335717>   We'll consider Jim's insights end of this week.

There's also a new lawsuit filed against the CHSRA in the Sacramento Superior Court.  We'll talk about that later this week as well.
California’s high-speed rail system is going nowhere fast
By Editorial, 
Published: November 13

THINGS JUST WENT from bad to worse for high-speed passenger rail in California. After the Golden State’s voters approved a $9 billion bullet-train bond issue in 2008, officials said they could build an 800-mile system by 2020, for $35.7 billion. The cost projection now, as issued by the state Nov.11: $98.5 billion, with a completion date of 2033.

Time to pull the plug, right? Not according to Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The new “business plan is solid and lays the foundation for a 21st-century transportation system,” he said.

Equally upbeat, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood offered Mr. Brown his congratulations on “a sound, step-by-step strategy for building a world-class high-speed rail network.”

This is unreal. Apart from the bond issue and $3.6 billion in federal funds already in hand, the cash-strapped state hasn’t credibly identified a source of funds for the system. The new report basically repeats previous assertions that, if California builds, federal and private-sector dollars will come. This is wishful thinking in an era of massive federal deficits, and if the opportunities for the private sector were really so great, where are the companies clamoring to invest?

Actually, the gigantic cost estimate amounts to an indirect confirmation of the doubts voiced in several independent analyses, which have focused on not only the rail plan’s mythical funding but also its high ridership projections — and the attendant risk that California will get stuck with expensive operating subsidies as well as billions in debt service.

Of course, that risk would occur only in the decreasingly probable event that California actually finishes the railroad. A more plausible scenario is that the state manages to construct merely a line between two points in the rural Central Valley before its cash peters out.

Why? The Obama administration has made clear that the state will lose $2.3 billion in federal funds unless it starts construction by October 2012. The money comes from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the stimulus bill — and that law’s purpose was to get people to work, pronto. The deadline is inflexible.

Alas, there is only one place where the state could finish the necessary environmental impact statements and other bureaucratic requirements before the use-it-or-lose-it date: a thinly populated 130-mile stretch of flatland that starts just north of Fresno and ends just north of Bakersfield.

U.S. and California officials tout this lonely corridor as the “spine” of a system that will connect big cities later on. After all, they argue, the interstate highway system started in Kansas. But that project had a dedicated funding source from the get-go: the federal highway trust fund, supported by fuel taxes.

More realistically, Sacramento’s Legislative Analysis Office calls the Central Valley starting point a “big gamble.” In the all-too-likely event that funding for the rest of the system never materializes, the report adds, “the state will be left with a rail segment unconnected to major urban areas that has little if any chance of generating the ridership to operate without a significant state subsidy.” It would be a train to nowhere, but at least it would go nowhere fast.

As questionable as this project is, we would have less business objecting if the only money at risk was California’s. But the Obama and Brown administrations are talking about devoting the nation’s funds to what looks more and more like a boondoggle. If the president and governor won’t slam on the brakes, then Congress or the California legislature must find a way to prevent the spending. Somebody, please, stop this train.

© The Washington Post Company

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