Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ending a highly flawed high-speed rail project is too much of a job for California's government

This article, below, was originally written for the Orange Country Register and refers to that paper's editorial position.  The article correctly points out that the Register has opposed HSR since the passage of the Proposition 1A bond issue in 2008.

So have we; indeed, even from earlier years. We also called it a boondoggle. We also said that it was a fraudulent and corrupt program created without an independent cost benefit analysis and no legitimate justification except the promise that it was a good idea and we would all love it when it was built.  

Also, before the passage of the bond issue, we were told that it would cost around $30 to $40 billion.  California voters would only be on the hook for the ten billion dollars of general obligation bonds. All the rest would come from three other sources, thereby spreading the pain; federal, local and private.  

Now we know better. None of those promises were true. One reason we now know the truth is that a handful of government agencies in California took a hard look at the rail authority, its Board and its documentation and found them all in very poor condition, you might say. The rail authority was severely criticized and chastised. 

As we see now, to no avail.  The endlessly repeated promise that they would tell the truth in the next version never materialized.

We also know from those government agency critical studies, such as the State Auditor's Office, that the documentation contained lots of false and misleading arithmetic about the dollars involved.  

Well, finally, both the General Accounting Office and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have been asked to look into California's project. Why? Because it involves billions of federal dollars which may be illegally spent if this project proceeds as currently conceived,  and also because the recipients of that fund, the CHSRA, may itself be found guilty of such crimes as conflict-of-interest.  And that's in addition to having solicited and received commitments of federal funding under false pretenses.

It's about time the feds stepped in. I hope that these new studies make clear what we have already learned through major dint of effort in California. That is, the project is totally unworthy of any federal funding and the awards should be rescinded.  

If our Governor and Legislature don't have the courage and stature to terminate this highly disreputable project, the burden falls on the Congress of the US. 

It's a dirty job but somebody has to do it!

Bullet train faces Congress' scrutiny

2012-04-15 09:08:06

A congressional probe has begun into the California high-speed rail project to determine whether its $3.9 billion in federal funding prevented work on other transportation projects. That seems self-evident. How can the same dollar be spent on two different things?

But the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform also is probing the California High-Speed Rail Authority's business dealings, the Register reported Wednesday. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa wrote train authority Chairman Dan Richard, noting concerns about ridership estimates, route selection, conflicts of interest, weak oversight, mismanagement and whether the train's plans comply with what voters approved in 2008.

Mr. Richard agreed to cooperate, saying he did not believe there were conflicts of interest.

Rep. Issa, R-Vista, "asked current and former high-speed rail officials — including Orange County's Curt Pringle and Tom Umberg — to preserve documents, records and communications, which they may have to cough up in the future as the investigation progresses," the Register reported.

"California high-speed rail was sold to voters as a grand vision for tomorrow but in practice appears to be no different than countless other pork-barrel projects — driven more by political interests and consultant spending than valid cost-benefit analysis," Issa's prepared statement said.

Again, we find all this self-evident. We have written as much repeatedly since voters in 2008 approved $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds to pay for part of the project. Revealingly, the bonds cover a shrinking percentage, as train costs have escalated, at one point tripling the original estimate of $33 billion, and most recently being "reduced" to $68 billion, still double what voters were promised.

The Register's Editorial Board warned voters four years ago the train was a boondoggle. We cited a study by the Reason Foundation and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association that it would cost more than $100 billion. Since 2008, other studies have raised numerous questions about the project's viability. 

While not an inch of track has been laid, millions have been spent on consultants, promotion and on what seems a continually revised business plan, now in its fourth version. A condition of the federal funding is that construction begin this year in the sparsely populated Central Valley, something we consider foolish and politically motivated.

© Copyright 2012 Freedom Communications. All Rights Reserved. 

No comments: