Friday, December 30, 2011

With the California High-Speed Rail Authority, where's a cop when you need one?

If you go through the over 900 entries on this blog, and count the number of times we have asked for an independent audit of the CHSRA books, you will be amazed at the frequency.

The rail authority has operated as an autonomous, unaccountable organization since the beginning. 

What's that you say, they have been audited by the state auditor already?  Yes, that's true.  And found severely inadequate.  Nothing ever happened about that. There has been no follow-up audit to see if they cleaned up their act.

Also, the Legislative Analysts' Office, the former Inspector General, and the rail authority's own peer review committee have provided lengthy and detailed critical reports.  What's been the result of that?  Nada. Zilch. Zip.

Laws are worthless without enforcement.  The rail authority has been flagrant in its, shall we say, "alleged" bending of the applicable laws.  Where's the enforcement?  Indeed, who has done a comprehensive audit, not only of the rail authority's books, but the financial records of the Board members themselves? Nobody. 

And the Legislature has had oversight on this Governor's organization, and has slapped their collective hands many, many times.  Results?  We continue to be deceived, lied to, manipulated, misled.

With all these failures-to-correct, I would think it's time to bring in the Federal Marshals, lock up and transport all their files and conduct a full-blown audit of all their books.

The rail authority is a loose cannon in this State's Government.  The oversight is tokenism at best. Actual accountability is absent.  Yet, the amount of information flying around the media-sphere about their many violations is such that you would think that by now a comprehensive criminal investigation would be under way.  Not yet.

OP-ED: High-speed rail project needs to be audited
December 30, 2011, 04:42 AM — Contra Costa Times

There are many missing elements to California’s high-speed rail proposal, but the most glaring one is honesty. What is needed before any further action is taken is a realistic, accurate audit by a nonpartisan watchdog agency that has no stake in the development or abandonment of the rail project.

That is what congressional Republicans are calling for in the wake of growing concern about the high cost of the project, dubious ridership estimates, inflated job-creation projections, unrealistic funding expectations, legal questions and broad deviation from the bond measure that won voter support in 2008.

Understandably, the members of Congress want to see if it makes financial sense to spend tens of billions of federal tax dollars on a highly questionable high-speed rail system in California.

It’s not only Republicans who are wary of going ahead with such a huge project burdened with so many uncertainties.

We are convinced that the latest business plan for the high-speed rail system is so flawed that it needs an independent analysis, which a nonpartisan audit could and should provide.

Even more problematic is that the rail plan now under consideration is vastly different from the one presented to voters in 2008.

Not only has the cost estimate more than doubled, but the route has dramatically changed, leaving out rail lines to Sacramento and San Diego.

There is no compelling reason to move ahead now with construction of an initial phase of the rail system in the Central Valley.

There is no early start date deadline on the state bond money or the matching funds from Washington.

Furthermore, the Central Valley is the wrong place to begin a high-speed rail project. The initial route should be in a high-density region with traffic congestion, such as the Los Angeles to San Diego corridor.

Successful high-speed rail operations in Japan and France each began in the most densely populated areas of those nations.

The closer we look at the rail project, which we doubted was viable form the beginning, the worse it looks in terms of ever having nearly enough ridership potential to attract the needed private investment.

The job-creation estimates, in which real jobs and job-years have been conflated, raise more questions. The fact is that only a few thousand workers will be employed on the project at any one time.

Besides, money spent on other more worthwhile transportation or any public works projects would create as many jobs as a high-speed rail system.

Before any more money is wasted on the rail project, a comprehensive, independent audit needs to be done. Then a new vote on rail bonds must be held. Unfortunately, some supporters of the high-speed rail project fear that a vote would kill the project.

We agree with them about the likely outcome of a vote, especially after an accurate independent audit reveals the gross inadequacies of the current business plan.

We trust that given proper information, voters would be able to discern the differences between a fantasy and a realistic vision and would derail what promises to be a costly mistake.

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