Mike Rosenberg, a Bay Area journalist, does a consistently good job reporting on high-speed rail. Here are his comments and a review of the LAO Report which we sent out in this blog this morning.
As Mike points out, this LAO report is critically important since this source is the the non-partisan, non-political office of experts on what issues the Legislature will need to confront in its decision-making. What that means is that, to follow the LAO's recommendations, the Legislature would have to vote against providing this project with its FY2012-2013 budget request. The LAO has done all the homework and due diligence for them.
And, if the Legislature chooses to vote for the HSR budget (which appears very likely), against the recommendations of the LAO, it can mean only one thing: It's about the money. They will, in other words, support a disastrous, mis-conceived project based on lies in order to obtain the federal $3.5 billion of stimulus awards REGARDLESS OF THE DELETERIOUS CONSEQUENCES.
How responsible is that? Has Sacramento politics sunk so low? It comes as no surprise that those with "skin in the game", such as Chairman of the CHSRA Dan Richard, will keep telling us this project is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and most other government agencies that would benefit from the continuance of this project will say the same.
However, Senators Lowenthal and Simitian, both Democrats, have also been the leaders in the state senate to put a spotlight on the shortcomings of this project, and have, by now, seen more than enough to call a halt. Yet, they insist on kicking the can down the road -- procrastinating -- in order to stall a decision the outcome of which should be clear and unambiguous; terminate this project. Yet, as we see in Rosenberg's article, they keep waffling with empty comments such as we need more information and they are going to "need more time" to understand the implications. Blah, blah, blah. That's being mush-mouthed.
C'mon Senators, time to show some cojones and come right out and say what needs to be said! And we know what that is, as you do as well. Time to stop this project before a whole lot more damage is done and funding wasted. As the Governor keeps saying, it's time to "man up." Exactly. Stop this project. Deny funding. Confront the realities of a project that has no business existing.
Stop California bullet train, state's top analyst urges
Report from state's top analyst could give lawmakers the cover needed to stop high-speed plan
By Mike Rosenberg firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: 04/18/2012 06:54:30 AM PDT
Updated: 04/18/2012 08:18:39 AM PDT
The state's top analyst on Tuesday urged lawmakers to slam the brakes on California's $68 billion bullet train, cautioning that the newly overhauled plan simply isn't "strong enough" and relies on "highly speculative" funding sources.
The report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office is especially significant as the state Senate and Assembly on Wednesday begin a debate on whether to start building the high-speed rail line, a decision officials revealed Tuesday will likely be delayed into the summer. The report could give a divided Legislature the political cover it needs to halt the biggest public works project in California history; otherwise, lawmakers would have to go against the advice of their own experts.
It is the latest in a series of stinging critiques of the project by independent watchdog groups. But it's the first analysis since the Brown administration early this month unveiled a scaled-back version of the rail line that was intended to appease critics by trimming the cost by $30 billion, speeding up the start of service by five years and electrifying the Caltrain line by the end of the decade.
"Our concerns are really legitimate and serious," said Brian Weatherford, the LAO analyst who wrote the report. Without a new outpouring of federal funding, "we don't really see how you could get (the money) to build this thing. That's our primary concern."
Hole seen in plan
The 10-page analysis advises lawmakers to shoot down Gov. Jerry Brown's request for $2.7 billion in state bonds, to match $3.3 billion in federal grants, to start building tracks in the Central Valley this year. Any delay would risk the loss of the federal grants, which project officials say would be akin to axing the rail line for the foreseeable future.
"This project is important for California and it would be a mistake to delay this project and lose billions of dollars in critical federal funds," Dan Richard, who Brown appointed to lead the project, said in a statement.
As it has in previous reports over the past few years, the LAO is chiefly concerned that the state will not find the remaining $55 billion needed to complete the full project connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2029. In addition to the federal grants, the state has $10 billion in voter-approved bond funds.
The report notes the plan to secure most of the remaining funding through the federal government appears "unlikely" in light of the cost-cutting climate in Washington, where all bullet train funding has been zeroed-out for the past two years.
Further, it criticizes the Brown administration's new backup plan to use potentially tens of billions of dollars from the state's new "cap-and-trade" program in which big polluters buy credits in electronic auctions to offset greenhouse gas emissions, with the revenue going to environmentally friendly programs. The LAO argues there are more cost-effective environmental programs that could use the money, that it's unclear whether high-speed rail would actually reduce greenhouse gases quickly enough, and that it may be illegal to use the funds to build the bullet train.
But Mary Nichols, who heads the California Air Resources Board, countered in a statement Tuesday that she thinks the bullet train would, indeed, be eligible for cap-and-trade funds.
In response to the LAO's point that the rail authority's management has been "lacking," Richard agreed that it needs to "strengthen executive leadership."
"But other LAO recommendations overlook the significant environmental and economic benefits of reducing freeway pollution, improving transportation and creating jobs," Richard said.
If lawmakers vote to start building high-speed rail, as Weatherford predicts, the LAO advises them only to approve the first $2 billion section of the initial leg of construction near Fresno, because the remaining $4 billion for the rest of the section won't be needed until future years.
It also asks lawmakers to approve a bill transferring control of the project from the California High-Speed Rail Authority to Caltrans. Finally, it recommends that project leaders figure out potential new funding sources and provide details of its other plans.
Because the rail authority approved the new business plan last week, the LAO, watchdog groups and some legislators have warned that the changes are coming too quickly for them to approve the massive project by the June deadline to pass a budget. Already, sources in the Capitol say the rail authority plans to delay the funding request, likely until lawmakers return from their summer break in August.
The report advises lawmakers to approve a small amount of funding to keep the rail agency in business so it can finish planning documents and "help the Legislature maintain its future options for the project."
On Wednesday, two Silicon Valley swing-vote lawmakers on the project -- Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park -- will lead the first legislative hearings on Brown's funding request.
"I think (the LAO report) reinforces the need to take a little time and get it right," Simitian said. "It's a new plan and I think both the public and the Legislature are going to need some time to understand the implications of the plan, and frankly get the answers to some questions that have been hanging out there for the last three years."
"We're a ways away from making any kind of funding decisions," Gordon said. The LAO report "will point a way for the conversation that needs to occur" on questions over the plan.
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705.