Friday, April 20, 2012

For High-Speed Rail, it's politics as usual in both Washington and Sacramento

Here's the last sentence of Michael Doyle's article:

"It's unfortunate that high-speed rail has become a high-profile political project," Richard said, "and I hope in the future it will revert to being just another transportation alternative."

Shouldn't Mr. Richard be asking WHY the high-speed rail project has become a "high-profile political project?"  Perhaps because this is the largest, and most disastrous government waste of funding since the Tea-Pot Dome Scandal?

And, if he wishes the HSR project to be perceived as "just another transportation alternative" we should begin, finally, to study all the transportation alternatives.  It is highly likely that this particular "alternative" -- high-speed rail --  is the least cost-effective we could possible build.

The current status of this project now is in the hands not of the rail authority led by Chairman Richard, but in the two legislative bodies, one in Sacramento and the other in Washington.  When Mr. Richard indicates that he expects no further funding from Washington for three years, he is suggesting that he is prepared to wait for the Mid-term elections in 2014.

The assumption is that a different Congress will by then recognize the fantastic benefits of high-speed rail, not the least of which is the salvation of a moribund economy.  Of course, that three years is also time for more independent studies of California's corrupt project and what a disaster it actually is.  But, that is not Mr. Richard's concern.

The rail authority does have around $6 billion in federal and state funding to play with right now and they intend to spend it regardless of any decision by Washington's Congress.  And, tragically, the State Legislature will probably support those expenditures since getting and spending money is what makes our government work.  Never mind what it spends those dollars on. 

So, as Mr. Doyle's headline suggests, even as this Congress is poised to reject further HSR funding for California, California's Legislature is poised to fund the project with available dollars, and let the future take care of itself.  It will become the following session of the Legislature's problem to find further funding to keep the project going. 

Make no mistake, once this project begins construction, stopping it will become far more difficult. One of the Government's favorite games is to continue to throw good money; i.e. our tax dollars, after bad.  

We have become a "short-term" Nation that can think only of this Quarter, this Congressional session, this bubble or this recession. We are totally incapable of seeing long term, of thinking strategically, of planning beyond the next fiscal year. 

Starting a useless project that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars with only $6 billion in hand, and with no notion of future sources, is beyond ridiculous; it's tragic. And all us Californians, and even all us Americans, will become the victims of this grandiose scam.

The Miami Herald >  News >  Nation >  Nation Wires
Posted on Friday, 04.20.12

Congress poised to reject Calif. high-speed rail funding

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration sought $1 billion for high-speed rail next year; Congress is on track to provide zip.

In a bad sign - but not a killing blow - for California's speedy rail ambitions, senators this week joined their U.S. House counterparts in dismissing the administration's funding request. The bicameral blow-off means a fiscal 2013 transportation spending bill will omit the high-speed rail dollars that President Barack Obama wanted.

On its face, the omission of new high-speed support does not directly impede California's program. The state already has received $3.3 billion in federal funds to get the project started, and no additional funds were planned on for the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

"This is something we anticipated," Dan Richard, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said in an interview Friday. "In our business plan, we do not expect any additional federal funds for at least three years."

Long-term, though, the omission underscores the complications California could face in coming years when federal funds are explicitly relied upon. The state's latest high-speed rail business plan anticipates the federal government providing $42 billion of the total project cost, now pegged at $68.4 billion.

"We continue to have the risk of either stranded investments, or the even bigger risk that California is forced to spend money it does not have to salvage something," Elizabeth Goldstein Alexis, co-founder of the Palo Alto-based Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, said in an interview earlier this month.

The state's revised business plan envisions a first phase connecting Merced to the San Fernando Valley within 10 years, as well as a "blended system" involving upgraded commuter lines in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area. State and private funds also will be used.

The congressional funding decisions happen in the annual appropriations bills, which are separately passed in both House and Senate. Lawmakers then negotiate a final deal in a high-stakes conference. When neither the House nor the Senate includes money, it's not supposed to pop up in the final bill, and members of Congress this year have explicitly promised to forgo such last-minute maneuvers.

On Thursday, the full Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the $53 billion funding bill that covers federal transportation and housing programs. A key subcommittee had passed the bill earlier in the week, without any discussion about high-speed rail but with senators stressing the budget pressures they feel.

"It was not an easy task," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., adding that "achieving our goals required making difficult choices."
Instead of the high-speed rail funding requested by Obama, the Senate bill offers $1.75 billion for assorted rail programs, with most of the money going to Amtrak. The bill also includes $500 million for a highly competitive "TIGER" grant program, which can potentially fund high-speed rail projects. The Transportation Department reports having received more than 3,000 applications in past grand rounds.

The Republican-controlled House has not yet approved its version of the transportation spending bill, but GOP leaders have been even more emphatic about their intentions to deny funds to Obama's rail priorities. Underscoring the point, the House this year approved an amendment to another bill by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, that blocked funds from going to California's high-speed rail program.

Urged on by House members, the Government Accountability Office is now reviewing the state's program. As originally requested by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and 11 other GOP lawmakers, the study is supposed to include a neutral assessment of how much federal money will be needed both to build the California system and to operate it.

"It's unfortunate that high-speed rail has become a high-profile political project," Richard said, "and I hope in the future it will revert to being just another transportation alternative."

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