Thursday, April 26, 2012

What difference will the elections make to California's High-Speed Rail Project?

The short answer to the question asked in the headline of the article, below, is NO.  I'll explain.

The case that Maccioli makes in this article from Yahoo News is that the California High-Speed Rail Project falls along and is dependent on Party affiliation. Republicans are against it; Democrats for it.

But I disagree with his contention that it depends on whether Romney or Obama are elected this November.  What it depends on is whether the House remains Republican majority or not.  Even if Obama is re-elected, he can't squeeze blood out of a turnip, so to speak.  

The House Republicans oppose this project.  The Senate Democrats, except for the two Senators from California, are also not that crazy about high-speed rail any longer, although the several dozen Democratic Senators (and some of their Republican colleagues) from the Northeast do smell generous portions of political pork labelled high-speed rail for the Northeast corridor. 

Many of those Democrats who supported the ARRA Stimulus program of which a part, $8 billion, was earmarked for HSR, are no longer so enthusiastic since those funds haven't been spent yet, four years later, to create all those promised jobs. Recently the Senate did not fight tooth and claw to save HSR as a line item in the Transportation budget draft. 

Even though the current battle over the transportation budget is highly contentious, the conflict raging between the House and Senate versions, both Houses have eliminated HSR as a line item.  It won't be there in the next extension, and most likely won't be there in the re-authorization, whenever that gets seriously considered.

Obama can encourage all he wants; without the funds, it will be seen only as "white noise." LaHood said he would leave the administration if Obama is re-elected.  Another HSR advocate will step into his shoes.  It doesn't matter.  It's politics as usual.

The basic truth here is that at the federal level, the high-speed rail program is an "unfunded mandate." They are providing seed money, mostly from the ARRA funding, for California and for Amtrak in the other states. But, it's only seed money and we all now know that the costs to build a complete high-speed rail system from scratch are staggeringly high. And Washington can't come up with that kind of cash.

So, the bottom line is that California is now scrambling over the already awarded $3.5 billion from the DOT, without any more funding in the offing in the foreseeable future.  

Now, if both houses of Congress were to turn Democratic in this next election, we would see more funding for HSR and that would the the greatest disaster, waste and insanity in my lifetime in the US.

Does California High-Speed Rail Need Obama to Win in November?

By Frank Maccioli | 
Yahoo! Contributor Network – 
Wed, Apr 25, 2012

COMMENTARY: Republicans have been waging a spirited primary campaign, attacking each other over who is more conservative and will do a better job of reducing government spending and defeating Barack Obama.

At the same time, California's controversial high-speed rail project, 800 miles of electrified track that would link San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other major cities with 200 mph passenger trains, has also been capturing headlines.

HSR supporters, such as Californians for High-Speed Rail, say the project is necessary to address future transportation needs, reduce fossil fuel consumption, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

On the other hand, critics like High-Speed Boondoggle claim the project's costs continue to increase, the assumptions made to justify the project are incorrect, and that California's voters are being misled into supporting something different than what they approved. 

Indeed, a recent field poll showed that a majority of California's voters not only would like a re-vote on the project, but they would also disapprove it.

From an initial cost estimate of $43 billion, later revised to $98 billion, rail authorities modified it again a few weeks ago to $68 billion, also reducing the scope to only 500-plus miles. They've also agreed to blend the system with existing, traditional rail systems in an attempt to get more political support.

But what would have happened if the California Republican presidential primary, scheduled for June 5, had been held months ago? One can easily imagine every candidate "railing" against the project as another example of government waste. It's doubtful that any of this year's candidates would have had words of support.

Coupled with their criticism would be the constant media coverage of the campaign. HSR would be in the news at every campaign stop, on every TV and radio station, and in every newspaper and political pamphlet. A barrage of negative press would have been happening just when rail authorities were holding critical public hearings.

Already there are efforts in Congress and the California legislature to stop funding for the project. Any hope for continued funding probably rests with what happens in the November elections. 

If Obama wins, he and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will be emboldened to pressure Congress to direct sufficient dollars to HSR. It still wouldn't be a sure thing, but, supporters would feel more confident.

But if Obama loses, regardless of who the Republican nominee is, look for HSR to face a major roadblock in securing the necessary funding for even a demonstration project. A Republican victory would clearly be seen as a mandate to reduce government spending. HSR would then take a back seat to highway maintenance, defense spending, and other politically safer projects.

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