Sunday, June 10, 2012

More bullet train OPM

Facing a $17 billion annual deficit — and, unlike the Feds, no ability to print money — Gov. Edmund G. (“Jerry”) Brown has come with a novel solution: commit the state to spending an additional $70 million (perhaps $100 million) on a money-losing high-speed rail system.

Unfortunately, for Gov. Brown, the public no longer supports the plan, with voters now opposed 59% to 33%.

This morning, the San Jose Mercury News (which supported the plan in 2008) came out in opposition, saying

There is a fine line between visionary and delusional. California's high-speed rail project whizzed across that line long ago and now is chugging toward the monorail station at Fantasyland.
Two of the state’s other major papers, the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, seem fully committed to spending millions of other people’s money on the system.

However, railroad historian Richard White of Stanford explained to LA Times readers how the high-speed rail yarns parallel those used by 19th century railroad barons Leland Stanford and C.P. Huntington:
The ghost of Huntington hovers over the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Its members are supposed to protect the California public, but there is too much money to be made from this project to do that. They are boosters who tell us what they want us to know. They sell the Legislature short, and in this they may be right. They sell the governor short, and in this too they are probably right. They also sell the California public short. They think we are suckers.

I hope they are as wrong in this as they are in their calculations.
The state’s senior political correspondent, Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee, noted last week how Brown claimed the rail system paralleled that of the Bay Area’s great bridges of the 1930s. However, while those bridges were successfully financed out of their respective revenues, Brown wants to use other people’s money — the state’s general fund — to guaratee the “bullet” train debt:
If the train is as financially viable as Brown and the authority insist it is, why wouldn't they have the guts to do what the bridge-builders did – float revenue bonds to be repaid from the train's supposed operating profits?

Public works projects make sense when they fill well-documented needs.

When they don't, they are just political ego trips.

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