Saturday, November 19, 2011

State Senator Doug LaMalfa and California's High-Speed Rail Project

State Senator Doug LaMalfa represents a rural district of Northern Central California.  He is a Republican and a member of a small minority in an otherwise Democratically dominated Senate. 

While setting the stage here, I should also mention that Diane Harkey, and Assemblywoman from a Conservative district in Southern California, stands on similar ground as Senator LaMalfa; they both pro-actively and vigorously oppose high-speed rail for their state.

I'm not that aware of any of their other policies or political positions on the broad spectrum of issues besetting California.  I strongly suspect I would disagree with many of those.  No matter.  We certainly agree when it comes to a firm opposing stand regarding high-speed rail. 

Now, a few words about Senator LaMalfa's legislation (SB22) <>

In November of 2008, California voters supported Proposition 1A, which was filled with marketing language and sales-worthy rhetoric about building a high-speed train from LA to SF, and later, extending it from Sacramento all the way to San Diego.  It was a bond issue ballot, with $9.95 billion for HSR and less than $1 billion of that for connecting to secondary rail systems throughout the state.

The authorizing language was filled with promises of low costs, high ridership and cheap tickets. None of those were, or are, true. Any Californian who supported this project with a yes vote, can now read in almost any state newspaper how the costs of skyrocketed, the ridership projections not only have shrunk, but are still blatantly dishonest, and that what ticket costs will be, they surely can't predict those for 25 years out -- because that's how long it will take for this train to become operational. Rest assured that world-wide, HSR train tickets cost much more than any other available train-ride. And it won't be any different here.

But wait, there's more.  They also promised "profitability" for this train, as if it were to become a business rather than a government supported public service. We now understand how ridiculous that promise is.  And, the projected costs are now $100 billion, when the voters were told $33 billion, and those costs are still rising. Oh, one more thing, they promised that it wouldn't require any state subsidies to operate.  We can all forget that promise also.

Finally, realizing that there will be no further federal funding or the promised private investor funding, they intend to go ahead anyhow in the Central Valley, with the $6 billion or so they can put their hands on.  What will they build?  A high-speed train?

Sorry, no.  They will lay around 100 miles of track, and that's it.  They will connect several towns in the Valley, all quite distant from the major population centers of the Bay Area up north, and the LA Basin down south.

All of which is to say, the voters were lied to.  As someone correctly called it, "bait-and-switch!"

So, State Senator LaMalfa wants to go back to the voters and ask them, with what we all now know, does California still want to go ahead with this project or not.  The problem is that if they go ahead, who will provide the funds?  And will the state end up with a dug-up rail corridor in the Central Valley and nothing more, and that at the cost of over $6 billion? And the final question, what will all this really cost California now and in the future?  Without honest answers to those questions, the project clearly must be terminated now, before irreparable harm is done.

Send high-cost rail back to voters
By Doug LaMalfa
Saturday, November 19th, 2011

After a series of misleading statements, a California Supreme Court ruling on illegal ballot language, and two downright dishonest business plans the citizens of California deserve the final say on high-speed rail. To be blunt, the California High Speed Rail Authority could give lessons to Third World dictators on the concept of public misinformation.

For over three years legislators and the public have been assured by the California High Speed Rail Authority that a “public-private partnership” would finance the bulk of the construction. Also, that the project would be in the $33 to $40 billion dollar range for an 800-mile high-speed rail system and any claims to the contrary were absolutely without merit. However, with the recent release of yet another updated business plan, the authority has proven all earlier statements to be false.

In fact, the now proposed 520-mile high-speed rail plan is likely to cost $100 billion. All told when Californians look at the claims made in 2008 versus the reality of the recent business plan we see a significantly shorter track, a 300 percent escalation in cost, no private investment secured, and ridership numbers that still reek of fantasy.

This project was sold to voters as a model for public-private partnerships. Under the original plan, the public was asked to invest nearly $10 billion with the expectation that some federal dollars and private investment would create a $33 billion rail system. Three years later, millions of taxpayer dollars spent on lobbyists, publicists and slick PR campaigns have resulted in a few billion in federal funding and zero dollars in private investment. 

You cannot have a public-private partnership without private investment. In recent legislative hearings authority spokesmen relayed that they did not plan on any private financing until after the completion of the project. Public-private is a meaningless term when there is no private.

When it comes to ridership estimates, high-speed rail continues to live in a fantasy world. The updated plan calls for more riders than exist in the entire country, including the east coast high-speed rail system where populations are larger and more compact. The authority believes 43 million will ride when fully established, more than three times the amount that fly between San Francisco and Los Angeles annually.

Finally, when looking at the total cost, $100 billion is a lot more than the $33 billion that was advertised. 

And don't forget that $100 billion is just the down payment. That sum only builds 520-miles, far short of the promised 800-mile project connecting Sacramento to San Diego. The complete 800-mile system will likely cost in excess of $150 billion. Californians are being asked to pay a lot more for a lot less and it is unlikely that our debt riddled federal government will give billions more borrowed from China.

Unfortunately, the notion of an efficient, cost-effective, profitable high-speed rail system was sold to the voters on fanciful assumptions that had little basis in reality. Californians deserve honesty from their government, and based on this new — and drastically different picture — the voters should be given the opportunity to confirm whether or not they are still on board. 

When the Legislature returns to Sacramento, I am introducing a bill to send this project back to the voters. It's their money and they deserve the final say.

Sen. Doug LaMalfa is a lifelong farmer representing the 4th Senate District including Shasta, Tehama, Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Siskiyou, Sutter, Del Norte, Placer, Trinity, Yuba and Nevada counties. 

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