The California strategy for wasteful spending

Thomas Lifson
The cabal of unions, politically connected companies, bureaucrats, and Democrats that runs California has a clear strategy for continuing to spend money beyond tax revenues, enriching themselves at the expense of obligating the taxpayers to huge debts. It is really quite simple: commit so much money to projects that cancelling them can be portrayed as more wasteful than finishing them.

Two project exemplify this strategy.

The state's fanciful high speed rail project, which will have to charge fares higher than airline travel,  is letting contracts for the first segment of line, from nowhere to nowhere in the rural Central Valley. This line will be useless unless the entire system is completed. It is so absurd that the Legislative Analyst's Office has attacked it:

The California Legislative Analyst's Office on Tuesday recommended that the state's proposed high-speed rail system start in Los Angeles or the Bay Area - not in the Central Valley.

The recommendation was part of a blistering report that found a host of faults with the project, in which California officials envision an 800-mile rail system connecting San Diego and Los Angeles to Sacramento and San Francisco through Fresno.

Among them, the report said, are unrealistic funding assumptions, an overreliance on consultants, a poor business plan, and outdated and understated cost estimates. [....]

In his report, Thronson [the report's author] said that because of "a significant risk" that the high-speed rail project will never be completed, state officials should rethink current plans, starting with a line now slated to run from just north of Bakersfield to a point near Chowchilla.

The report said other segments "could provide greater benefit to the state's overall transportation system" if the rail project isn't completed.

Of course, the true purpose of starting in the Central Valley is to force completion of the entire boondoggle, claiming it would be waste not to do so.

A remarkably similar situation, on a slightly smaller scale (only wasting hundreds of millions of dollars) is faced in  the case of the transit extension to Oakland Airport from the BART rapid transit system. Currently, BART riders must board a connector bus running from the nearest station to Oakland Airport. (I have ridden this bus many times, and it is rarely crowded. The principal inconvenience is the need to buy a ticker from a vending machine, rather than paying the driver, as is done on a conventional bus.)

Instead of having to go down an escalator and board a bus, the construction/union cabal wants to build an elevated people-mover rail system, at a cost of several hundred million dollars, to travel the rarely congested route into the airport, a distance of about 3 miles.

The San Francisco Chronicle's ace investigative reporters Matier and Ross
report that cancelling the unnecessary project could cost as much as $150 million, thanks to all the contracts that have been signed:


"It doesn't look like we are going to be putting the brakes on this project," said Robert Raburn, a BART board member who would clearly love to do just that.

Raburn, whose district includes the area around Oakland International Airport, asked interim GM Sherwood Wakeman to estimate how much it would cost to kill the proposed $484 million connector.

The answer: The $95 million that BART has already spent on the planned 3.5-mile line from the Coliseum Station to the airport would be money down the drain. Paying off contractors who have already been hired would cost another $30 million to $150 million.

A healthy portion of the flights out of Oakland Airport go to Southern California, which is the destination of the high speed rail system. So California taxpayers are on the hook for unnecessary projects that compete with each other, and are destined to generate future operating deficits that also will be paid out of tax revenues.
The cabal of unions, politically connected companies, bureaucrats, and Democrats that runs California has a clear strategy for continuing to spend money beyond tax revenues, enriching themselves at the expense of obligating the taxpayers to huge debts. It is really quite simple: commit so much money to projects that cancelling them can be portrayed as more wasteful than finishing them.

Two project exemplify this strategy.

The state's fanciful high speed rail project, which will have to charge fares higher than airline travel,  is letting contracts for the first segment of line, from nowhere to nowhere in the rural Central Valley. This line will be useless unless the entire system is completed. It is so absurd that the Legislative Analyst's Office has attacked it:

The California Legislative Analyst's Office on Tuesday recommended that the state's proposed high-speed rail system start in Los Angeles or the Bay Area - not in the Central Valley.

The recommendation was part of a blistering report that found a host of faults with the project, in which California officials envision an 800-mile rail system connecting San Diego and Los Angeles to Sacramento and San Francisco through Fresno.

Among them, the report said, are unrealistic funding assumptions, an overreliance on consultants, a poor business plan, and outdated and understated cost estimates. [....]

In his report, Thronson [the report's author] said that because of "a significant risk" that the high-speed rail project will never be completed, state officials should rethink current plans, starting with a line now slated to run from just north of Bakersfield to a point near Chowchilla.

The report said other segments "could provide greater benefit to the state's overall transportation system" if the rail project isn't completed.

Of course, the true purpose of starting in the Central Valley is to force completion of the entire boondoggle, claiming it would be waste not to do so.

A remarkably similar situation, on a slightly smaller scale (only wasting hundreds of millions of dollars) is faced in  the case of the transit extension to Oakland Airport from the BART rapid transit system. Currently, BART riders must board a connector bus running from the nearest station to Oakland Airport. (I have ridden this bus many times, and it is rarely crowded. The principal inconvenience is the need to buy a ticker from a vending machine, rather than paying the driver, as is done on a conventional bus.)

Instead of having to go down an escalator and board a bus, the construction/union cabal wants to build an elevated people-mover rail system, at a cost of several hundred million dollars, to travel the rarely congested route into the airport, a distance of about 3 miles.

The San Francisco Chronicle's ace investigative reporters Matier and Ross
report that cancelling the unnecessary project could cost as much as $150 million, thanks to all the contracts that have been signed:


"It doesn't look like we are going to be putting the brakes on this project," said Robert Raburn, a BART board member who would clearly love to do just that.

Raburn, whose district includes the area around Oakland International Airport, asked interim GM Sherwood Wakeman to estimate how much it would cost to kill the proposed $484 million connector.

The answer: The $95 million that BART has already spent on the planned 3.5-mile line from the Coliseum Station to the airport would be money down the drain. Paying off contractors who have already been hired would cost another $30 million to $150 million.

A healthy portion of the flights out of Oakland Airport go to Southern California, which is the destination of the high speed rail system. So California taxpayers are on the hook for unnecessary projects that compete with each other, and are destined to generate future operating deficits that also will be paid out of tax revenues.