California's high speed rail boondoggle just won't die
The Wall Street Journal has the backstory about how Governor Jerry Brown is insisting on trying to complete the high speed rail plan despite a budget shortfall of $16 billion:
Transportation experts warn that the 500-mile bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles could cost more than $100 billion, though the Governor pegs the price at a mere $68 billion. The state has $12.3 billion in pocket, $9 billion from the state and $3.3 billion from the feds, but Mr. Brown hasn't a clue where he'll get the rest. Maybe he's hoping Facebook will buy the train, though he'll have a hard time convincing Mark Zuckerberg that it's worth 100 Instagrams.
In 2008 voters approved $9 billion in bonds for construction under the pretense that the train would cost only $33 billion and be financed primarily by the federal government and private enterprise. Investors, however, won't put up any money because the rail authority's business plans are too risky. Rail companies have refused to operate the train without a revenue guarantee, which the ballot initiative prohibits. Even contractors are declining to bid on the project because they're worried they won't get paid.
Mr. Brown is hoping that Washington will pony up more than $50 billion, but the feds have committed only $3.3 billion so far-and Republicans intend to claw it back if they take the Senate and White House this fall. If that happens, the state won't have enough money to complete its first 130-mile segment in the lightly populated Central Valley, which in any event wouldn't be operable since the state can't afford to electrify the tracks.
None of which is stopping Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who is putting the squeeze on California lawmakers to appropriate $6 billion-now. "We can't wait," he says. The White House wants to get the money out the door before the election. It's worried that even some Democratic legislators are getting cold feet as logistical challenges and public opposition mount.
Polls show that the public is in favor of killing the project by a 2-1 margin. Several communities are suing to prevent the project from going forward, and even the greens are apparently opposed because Governor Brown wants to use cap and trade money to fund the train.
A project that was originally to cost $33 billion, now over $100 billion, where the state can't afford to electrify the tracks, where the state is $16 billion in the red, and there is no revenue plan that would make the train profitable.
Sounds like a metaphor for the Obama administration.