Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A New Field Poll Reports a Voter Turn-around on High-Speed Rail in California

This web-site takes you to the complete Report of the Field poll recently conducted on the will of the California voters regarding the high-speed rail project and whether it's time for a re-vote. Here are the questions asked on this poll.  You can read the rest of this lengthy document to ascertain its credibility.

Questions Asked: 
--Have you seen, read or heard anything about California’s High Speed Rail project, a proposed passenger train service that when completed would link Southern California, the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area?

--(IF VOTED IN NOVEMBER 2008 ELECTION) In the November 2008 statewide election, Californians voted on a bond measure, Proposition 1A, to establish the High Speed Rail project. Thinking back to that election, do you recall having voted Yes to approve or No to reject the High Speed Rail Bond measure?

--Nine billion dollars in state bonds were approved by California voters for the High Speed Rail project in the November 2008 election. At the time, the project's estimated cost was 43 billion dollars and its targeted completion date was 2020. More current estimates now put its cost at 98 billion dollars and its completion date as 2033. Some think that the state legislature should resubmit the bond package to voters for another public vote next year. Regardless of how you feel about the project, do you favor or oppose the legislature putting the 9 billion dollar state bond package to another public vote in next year's statewide elections?

--Suppose that 9 billion dollars in state bonds for the California High Speed Rail project were put before voters again in a statewide election ballot. If the election were being held today, would you vote Yes to approve or No to reject this bond package?
We have been very skeptical of most high-speed rail polls since they have appeared like promotional "push-polls" to us. The questions were on the order of, "Don't you like puppies?" and "When did you stop beating your wife?"  If you see what I mean. 

A year ago, there was a flurry of such polls, instantly promoted to the public as justification for maintaining support for the California high-speed train project.

Indeed, the Rail Authority and all the train advocates kept reiterating that "the voters have spoken" when Proposition 1A passed during the 2008 elections.  And they found these early polls affirmation of that, that the voters want the project.

What we've learned since then is that the voters were lied to.  We've discussed this in great detail.  The voters were provided with a ballot box option that was a gilded-lily, full of outrageous promises of huge ridership and relatively low construction costs. Seductive speeds and ticket costs were promised.  And, we were promised cures by this rolling panacea for all the ills and diseases from which California suffered. (They're still doing that!)

But, perhaps late, but not too late, the voters are waking up to reality.  There is now universal distrust and outright contempt for the rail authority and its minions.  Abusive spending practices, over 700 consultants on contract and other flagrant violations of public trust abound with this mis-managed project. And lots of Californians know it.  Thank you, newspapers and other media for making the truth finally available. 

This new poll suggests a great increase in voter disgust and a wish for another opportunity in the ballot booth to correct their earlier error.

 This story is taken from Sacbee / Capitol and California / Dan Walters

Dan Walters: California's high-speed train losing public support

Has California's bullet train project – or pipe dream – finally run off the track? Voters think so.

When the California High-Speed Rail Authority released a much-revised "business plan" for the project that doubled its cost, it won praise in many quarters, including this one, for moving from abject fantasy into at least semi-reality.

The revisions were largely the work of two new rail authority members, Dan Richard and Michael Rossi, whom Gov. Jerry Brown appointed to pull the project back from the verge of political death because of ridership and financing assumptions that were ludicrously unrealistic.

However, the new plan didn't silence opposition among those living along its route. It also continued to draw sharp criticism from the Legislature's budget analyst, and – most importantly – its eye-popping cost eroded an already thin veneer of public support.

That erosion is starkly evident in a new statewide Field Poll that found overwhelming support for resubmitting the project to voters and overwhelming opposition to building it.

More than three-fourths of registered voters said they should be given another chance to vote on the project and, by a 2-1 margin, they want it to be killed.

Or to put it another way, should Brown and the Legislature continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the bullet train, they would be defying the very clear wishes of those who elected them to office.

Coincidentally, the Field Poll results were distributed to its news media clients Monday just minutes before two state Senate committees began a review of the revised business plan, in which legislators expressed both support for the concept and skepticism that it is financially viable.

The projected cost has now ballooned to nearly $100 billion, but the state has only a $9.95 billion bond issue and a few billion in federal funds to build a test track in the San Joaquin Valley.

The rail authority is hoping that more federal money will allow it to build an initial operational segment and that private investors then will be impressed with its potential and put up the rest of the money.

The Legislative Analyst's Office, however, suggests that even with revision, the plan does not comply with conditions of the bond issue on financing and completion of environmental clearances, and that building the San Joaquin Valley segment is probably not worth its $6 billion cost.

Richard, Rossi and other rail authority officials continued to defend the project as lawmakers peppered them with skeptical questions about the bullet train's prospects and mentioned revelations in The Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle about the authority's lavish spending on contracts to political insiders to positively influence public opinion.
The Field Poll's results would indicate that it was money down a rat hole.

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Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters

Field Poll: Californians want a chance to vote 'no' on high-speed rail

By David Siders
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011 - 9:05 am

For all the questions about its management and cost, this much is clear about high-speed rail: Californians who authorized the project three years ago want a do-over, according to a new Field Poll, and by a wide margin they want to vote "no."

Opposition to the multibillion-dollar project crosses party lines and includes more than a third of voters who previously favored the state's plan to build a high-speed rail system.

It comes after the California High-Speed Rail Authority last month revised the estimated cost of construction to almost $100 billion over 20 years, more than twice what was previously thought.

"These were supporters of high-speed rail to begin with," poll director Mark DiCamillo said. "More than a third are now on the 'no' side."

The poll could hardly come at a worse time for the rail authority, which is seeking approval of the Legislature to start construction in the Central Valley next year.

Nearly two-thirds of voters, or 64 percent, want the Legislature to call for a re-vote, according to the poll. If such an election were held, 59 percent of voters say they would reject the $9.9 billion bond package Californians approved three years ago, the poll found.

Pluralities of Democrats, Republicans and independents all oppose the project, according to the poll.

"I think we need it, but the price of it is too much," said Jay Ward, a 55-year-old from Fresno who originally supported the measure but opposes it now.

The electorate's worsening view of high-speed rail is at least in part in response to rising cost estimates and the project timeline's extension to 2033. But it likely also reflects a more general resistance to spending in the weak economy.

"The whole economic climate has changed, the state budget situation has changed," DiCamillo said. "I think we're just in a totally different environment, and a $9 billion project I think would have less chance of passage now than … three years ago."

The poll is Field's first measurement of public opinion about the project since 2008, when 52.7 percent of voters approved Proposition 1A, contemplating a network of high-speed trains connecting the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas by 2020.

After limping along for much of the year under increasing political opposition, the project appeared to be buoyed in recent months by the support of Gov. Jerry Brown and by the release of a new business plan.

Before the poll numbers became public, Tom Umberg, chairman of the rail authority board, told lawmakers that the bond measure "gives us the direction, some would say the mandate, to build a system that connects Northern California with Southern California."

But Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said the estimated cost has risen so dramatically since 2008 that many voters feel "they've really been had. … I think the people of California are finding out that they want a re-bid and a re-vote."

Of voters who supported the bond measure in 2008, 37 percent would vote against it today, according to the poll. People who originally voted against the measure remain nearly unanimous in their opposition, at 96 percent, while those who didn't vote three years ago or can't recall how they voted oppose it by a 2-1 margin, 57 percent to 28 percent.

"Really, our state is behind the times in terms of mass transportation," said Barbara Burroughs, a Citrus Heights Republican who voted for the project but now opposes it. "It's just way too expensive now."

The poll follows a critical report about the project by the Legislative Analyst's Office. The nonpartisan office said last week that the rail authority's plan does not comply with a provision of Proposition 1A because it does not identify funding for a usable section of track. The first section the authority plans to build, from Bakersfield to near Chowchilla, could not support high-speed travel until it is extended in a future phase of construction.

The report said future funding sources are "highly speculative," and it found the economic impact analysis included in the rail authority's new business plan "may be incomplete and imbalanced, and therefore portrays the project more favorably than may be warranted."

According to the Field Poll, even among voters who still support the project there is an appetite for a re-vote.

Gerald Palmer, a 76-year-old retired lawyer from Tehachapi, said he believes the project would benefit the state, but that the heightened controversy warrants another election.

"It's a democratic process," he said.

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