By Tim Hunt
Good questions about high-speed rail planUploaded: Mar 31, 2016
The Assembly transportation committee showed some very appropriate skepticism about the high-speed rail authority’s latest spin on its business plan.
The hearing followed release of the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office review of the plan and lots of questions—if not enough—about how it was going to be financed. The current business plan spun a 180-degree turn so the first segment will run north to San Jose from the San Joaquin Valley instead of south. .
The notion of passengers coming from the San Joaquin Valley by rail instead of by car certainly excited some Silicon Valley leaders.
The leaders in the Los Angeles basin were equally concerned because, outside of the authority, most people know there funding is tens of millions of dollars short. There’s no question that the challenges of going across the Tehachapi’s with tunnels and bridges was going to be more expensive that basically at-grade run from near Bakersfield to San Jose.
What still remains a huge question is the finances. Gov. Brown already has forced whacks in the estimated cost from north of $100 billion (two-thirds of the state’s operating budget) to the current pipe dream estimate of $68 million.
What should be heartening to taxpayers is that Jim Frazier, an Oakley Democrat and chair of the transportation committee, posed the question of what’s the guarantee that this will not be the ugly second coming of the Bay Bridge project, which quadrupled in cost to more than $6 billion from its first estimates.
It’s fair to think that the $100 billion is a reasonable number—what’s fiscally terrifying is the notion that it’s a factor of four or five—thus we are talking $400 billion or more. The governor has been dogged in his pursuit of this silly project—it does not even qualify as a nice-to-have asset—it’s trying to buy a Rolex when a Timex will do.
Whether the governor can continue to convince the Legislature to “job” the state’s global warming tax stream to send 25 percent of more to a project that will have no net impact on greenhouse gas reduction for at least 10-15 years will remain to be seen. Gov. Brown has exerted considerable influence, but he can be swayed. He reversed positions this week on raising the minimum wage from $10 to $15 after earlier opposing the increase.
The governor spun it as a justice issue—but economists see it as a job-killer, not an action that will benefit low-wage workers. Ask your favorite restaurant owner what he or she thinks of it.