Saturday, October 22, 2011

Will Arnold's train wreck become Jerry's Big Dig?

Not knowing when to stop

Derail state’s bullet-train boondoggle
Diane Harkey
R-Dana Point,
California Assembly
Oct. 18

Armed with the promise of $3.5 billion in federal stimulus funds, the Sacramento high-speed spending crew can’t wait to break ground on what could be one of the most ill-advised, underscrutinized, expensive and unnecessary public infrastructure projects in the nation.

The California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) was required by the Legislature to provide an updated business plan by Oct.14 to allow time to review before appropriating more funds. Recently, CHSRA admitted that the plan will be delayed while requesting another $65 million. More alarming is that the governor’s Department of Finance seems prepared to disburse the funds to CHSRA, using last year’s unused appropriation of bond funds, with or without a business plan or legislative approval.

How can this happen? The legality is certainly questionable, as unused appropriations do not roll over from year-to-year to be used in any way one likes. However, the fact is that $11 billion in state bond funds were issued for a variety of projects which remained unused in the 2010-11 year. Hence, we have been paying interest on these unused funds for which CHSRA is one of the beneficiaries.

While the battle over where and how to build the first multibillion-dollar 100-mile segment of the project rages on in the Central Valley, Congress has nixed hopes of any future federal funds necessary to build the “near” Fresno-Bakersfield segment. CHSRA has agreed to study an alternate route and delay the environmental impact report, but the Department of Finance states that CHSRA needs $65 million to begin acquiring right-of-way for the Central Valley segment. The first obvious question is if the rail authority doesn’t know where it is going, how does it know where to buy land?

While the Department of Finance claims the money will not be used to actually acquire land, it should not provide much comfort that we anticipate spending $65 million to order title reports and appraisals to take private property and productive farmland for a project that has little prospect of future funding. Not to mention that more than 60 percent of statewide voters claim we should halt funding, and they will never use high speed rail. Why do we keep this train wreck alive?

The answer is, like so many quasi-government agencies, the CHSRA was established as a near-autonomous unit, tasked with the mission of building a high speed train network. Until the CHSRA is defunded, it will continue down the track to complete its mission. Recently, CHSRA hired a legislative liaison (or highly paid lobbyist) to convince legislators to continue to fund high speed rail. The authority has also hired high-profile marketing firms and consultants statewide to sell the nightmare to the public and local elected officials.

As long as there is money available to spend the CHSRA will gobble it up. The Legislature can use Article XVI of our state’s constitution to defund the unused portion of the $9 billion voter approved bond. We can and must protect the people of California from ever-increasing long-term debt, operating costs and even higher unemployment. If unchecked, CHSRA will begin ripping through farms and towns, decimating businesses and driving down property tax receipts in an already 20 to 40 percent unemployed Central Valley.

With uncertain ridership, unlikely future funding and no solid reporting on costs or any explanation of how CHSRA will live up to its promise to the voters of “no state subsidies,” I call upon the governor to pull the plug on “Arnold’s Train Wreck” to ensure it does not become “Jerry’s Big Dig.”

Letter from Kings County Board of Supervisors to the Federal Railroad Administrator

Thanks to High-Speed Train Talk for the link.