Saturday, March 10, 2012

How many under-educated, under-employed Californians will ride the high-speed train?

This article is from April, 2009.

This one is from March, 2010

And this one is from September, 2011

Finally, this one is from March, 2012, this year!

To address California's ongoing shortfall, Brown is trying to gather support for a November ballot initiative that would raise the income tax on those making $250,000 or more a year and boost the state sales tax by a half cent. The higher taxes would raise about $7 billion a year and expire in 2017, a date by which Brown hopes the economy has improved enough to bring a healthy flow of tax revenue back to the state.
If voters reject those tax increases, Brown's budget says he will call for an automatic cut of $4.8 billion from public education. That is equal to three weeks of school.

The point we are making here with these randomly selected articles is that California, once the national leader in education from pre-school through graduate school, is now lagging near the bottom of all national educational assessments.  We hasten to point out that money is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for quality education.  

The state has been starving the education budget for a number of years and the results bear out the predicable consequences.  The only young people receiving the kind of education essential for middle class survival into the future are those whose parents can afford the private versions of all schooling. 

Public colleges and universities in this state have reached tuition costs rivalling the private institutions.  Those who aren't wealthy have been denied a proper grade school, K-12 education, and due to costs, denied an adequate higher education as well.  

Is that important?  We've hammered on this point before. The most important natural resource any state can generate is not oil or minerals from the ground.  Nor is it the produce of the agricultural sector's fertile ground.  Instead it is the productivity of its population.  And, the most critical variable in building a high-productivity labor force, from blue-collar through professional levels, is a superior education.  Besides health care, nothing can have higher priority in any state.

We say all this as a prelude to the article, below, about the shortcomings of the high-speed rail project and to point out that this is a zero sum game. Every dollar spent on high-speed rail, including salaries, administrative costs of the CHSRA Board, all the contracts with construction companies, consultants, lawyers and the like, as well as the costly game of public relations, is funding from the state thereby not available to education.

Our governor, in other words, is quite willing to short-change education for the sake of building this legacy project which, as it happens, will never be completed.  The state will run out of HSR funds when the federal $6 plus billion have been spent, without more in the pipeline.  What's so insulting to the voters and taxpayers about this is that the Governor and the Legislature know this. It's not a secret.  What a draconian choice!

They, the Governor and Democratic Legislators prefer, for the free $3.3 billion from Washington, to deprive the state's education process of funds about to be wasted on what they continue to call a high-speed rail project.  It is not what the voters voted for.  It will not be a "high-speed rail" project as initially intended.  It is nothing more than willful, shameful prostitution.

STATE: Train to nowhere

Published: 09 March 2012 05:31 PM

An out-of-control train speeding toward disaster should be the stuff of fictional thrillers, not state policy. But California’s high-speed rail plans push forward regardless of warnings about funding, feasibility and need. The Legislature should halt this bullet train, and avoid recklessly gambling public resources on a project that serves no pressing priority.

Gov. Jerry Brown, in a visit to Riverside last week, reiterated his support for the state’s bullet train plans, saying the project would provide key infrastructure for the state’s future. But the governor seems at odds with voters: A Public Policy Institute of California poll this week found that 53 percent of likely voters opposed the bullet train. Those results echoed a Field Poll from December, which found that voters would reject the rail funding by nearly two-to-one if the state put the 2008 rail bond measure to another vote.

Voters apparently understand the danger of ballooning costs and imaginary finances better than many elected officials. The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s latest estimates put the price of a Bay Area to Southern California line at $98.5 billion — more than double the $43 billion estimate of 2009. Yet the agency has just $12.5 billion available, including $9 billion from the 2008 state bond measure. The remaining $86 billion in financing depends on wishful thinking that the deficit-ridden federal government will cough up more money, and that private funding will somehow materialize.

Those costs keep mounting: The state’s legislative analyst last week raised its estimate of the price for state borrowing to fund the high-speed rail project to $709 million annually for 30 years. When voters approved the $9.95 billion rail bond in 2008, the analyst projected an annual cost was $647 million. That money, remember, would come from the state’s deficit-prone general fund.

Besides, the state has a series of expert warnings about the rail authority’s plans. The legislative analyst in January called the rail agency’s business plan “highly speculative.” The analyst also said the state might easily end up with nothing more than a $6 billion stretch of track through the lightly traveled Central Valley — a project that could not possibly justify the expense.

Likewise, the state auditor in January termed the project’s finances “increasingly risky.” The High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group, a panel of experts voters commissioned as part of the 2008 bond measure, in January concluded the rail line as planned was not feasible.

The rail line’s defenders, including the governor, say building the bullet train will create jobs and save billions of dollars the state would otherwise have to spend on expanded freeways, airports and other projects. But news reports have exposed inflated jobs numbers, while the legislative analyst and others doubt the estimates of infrastructure savings.

And a bullet train would do nothing to address the state’s most pressing transportation issues: goods movement and urban traffic congestion. California has better uses for public money than throwing it into a risky transportation project that the state does not need — and legislators should not let the bullet train roll forward.

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