Friday, March 30, 2012

Buying what we can't afford -- High-Speed Rail -- without any funding. Let the magic begin!

Here's a voice from California's Central Valley that understands the financial implosion promised by the high-speed rail project.

However, I disagree about the fund expenditures as a blanket issue. Funding infrastructure at this time would be a good thing. It's high-speed rail that makes it such an outrageous waste of precious resources.  Indeed, Jeff Taylor does suggest that upgrading existing regional, and yes inter-city, rail systems would offer huge improvements and, since it is the Democratic central goal, create jobs where people would be put to work in the near future, not some distant time when HSR construction begins in earnest.

And, why this does not fall into the category of illegality shows my legal ignorance.  The voters were told; that is, made a number of promises, about what the HSR project would be all about.  How it would look, what it would cost, how many people would ride it, what the ticket costs would be, and so on.  

What we are being offered now is nothing like what the bond ballot measure told us. In effect, we were lied to; we were not told the truth about anything. A small margin of voters supported that bond measure. We now know from polls that those voters, given another chance, would vote against this proposition, knowing now what they did not know then. 

I find it bizarre that no one, with the exception of a handful of Republican Legislators like Doug LaMalfa and Diane Harkey, gives a damn about any of this.

Thursday, Mar 29 2012 11:05 PM
California simply can't afford high-speed rail, now or later

Jeff Taylor

California currently has a $9.2 billion deficit, and the 2012-13 deficit will be larger -- much larger, according to a Feb. 27 report released by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. The LAO report states that California's tax revenue will fall $6.5 billion short of Gov. Jerry Brown's January 2012 budget proposal, and that revenue will decrease even more if voters do not approve his income and sales tax hike initiative later this year. So, according to the LAO, our 2012-13 state deficit will be at least $15.7 billion.

In these economically perilous times, how can we even consider obligating ourselves to paying 30 years of interest on state bonds for a $117.6 billion high-speed rail project? Have we lost our minds?

In 2008, 52 percent of California voters narrowly approved Proposition 1A. Prop. 1A authorized the state to issue bonds -- borrowed money -- totaling $9.95 billion to fund approximately one-third of the cost of the California high-speed rail project. The federal government and private investment was supposed to fund the balance of the project. Prop. 1A promised 800 miles of electrified rails for an estimated cost of $33.5 billion. State Auditor's report No. 2009-106 references Prop. 1A by stating, "According to state law, the entire network, from Sacramento to San Diego, is intended to be complete by 2020."

The High-Speed Rail Authority's draft 2012 business plan now describes a project that does not remotely resemble the project that voters approved in the 2008 Prop. 1A initiative. The project is now reduced from 800 to 520 miles and the cost has increased from $33 billion to $117.6 billion. The business plan does not include a schedule or cost estimate for the L.A. Basin to San Diego section of the project or the connector to Sacramento. There is virtually no private investment. The federal government has earmarked $4.3 billion for the project. However, Congress has successfully blocked any future federal contributions. The estimated date of completion is now 2033.

The voters were deceived in 2008. Taxpayers are outraged.

When the state has a budget shortfall, it raids local coffers, reducing funds for police, fire and other services. Redevelopment agencies have been completely eliminated across the state. Funding for other necessary infrastructure construction and maintenance projects will be reduced.

A properly planned high-speed rail system would move large numbers of commuters at high speed from the high-population-density areas of San Francisco Bay to the high-population-density areas of the L.A. Basin, following existing transportation corridors to prevent destruction of community and private properties as required by Prop. 1A.

A properly planned high-speed rail system would not unnecessarily destroy thousands of acres of the most productive farmland in the world, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in annual lost revenue. It would not unnecessarily destroy hundreds of existing Kern County business locations, impacting thousands of jobs. It would not destroy hundreds of homes in Kern County, displacing thousands of residents, and it would not unnecessarily destroy so much community infrastructure. 

This destruction will mean the loss of thousands of existing jobs and millions of dollars of annual lost revenue. Our community tax base will be severely impacted.

Amtrak employs 19,000 full-time people nationwide to work on a network of 23,000 miles of track. So, it is reasonable to assume that the 520-mile-long California HSR project will produce only a small fraction of the jobs that Amtrak's nationwide operation does today.

Modern rail construction is highly mechanized and efficient. It is no longer labor-intensive. Technology-dependent jobs such as construction of high-speed train locomotives and cars will be located in countries that make high-speed trains, such as China. The rails are also likely to be manufactured in other countries due to much cheaper costs.

We have substantial transportation rail infrastructure already in place. Amtrak, BART, Metro-Link and other passenger rail system upgrades would solve the same transportation problems that HSR will supposedly solve for a tiny fraction of the cost. 

The California high-speed rail project is not the answer to California's future transportation needs.

Jeff Taylor of Bakersfield conducts business as a contractor in the construction trades.

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