Friday, January 27, 2012

Willie and Jerry Brown: Development Democrats

Photo by Luke Thomas of Fog City Journal

What's increasingly clear about the high-speed rail project is that, as Martin Engel has been telling us, this project is not about the train; it's about the money---and the jobs that money will allegedly create. After all, even dumb projects can create a lot of jobs. The most important, steadfast supporters of the project are the leadership of the Democratic Party, including, alas, President Obama. Since he didn't mention high-speed rail in his State of the Union speech, apparently the president understands that the point is now moot, since obviously congress isn't going to give the project any more money.

But California Demcratic Party leaders are still on board, so to speak, including Governor Brown, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Mark Leno, Tom Ammiano, Scott Wiener, and Mayor Lee.

In a recent column in the Chronicle, Willie Brown provides a good example of what I call Development Democrats, the party leaders who consider the merits of projects a secondary consideration. The main thing is jobs for the unions, an important part of the party's base:

Gov. Jerry Brown is doing exactly what he should do with his call to go ahead with building the high-speed rail system: He's looking out for his legacy. You've got to do projects when you're governor, or mayor for that matter. The bigger the better. Jerry is trying to match his father, Pat Brown, who oversaw the building of the state highway network, the California Aqueduct and California's higher education system when he was governor. Jerry is thinking about what the John Kings of the world will say about him in 50 years. For me, there are few things more pleasing than having The Chronicle's peerless architecture writer praise projects I helped bring into being, such as the Giants' ballpark and Mission Bay. Nobody remembers all the things I screwed up, but they do remember the buildings. That's the legacy we politicians can show the Lord when we're trying to get into heaven.

If Governor Brown persists in pushing the high-speed rail project, his legacy will include support for the dumbest, most wasteful public works project in California's history.

Odd that Willie Brown mentions only the Giants' ballpark (a great success) and Mission Bay (jury still out) and not the Ferry Building, the City Hall makeover, and Union Square, all genuine successes done while he was mayor. Maybe those wonderful projects weren't big enough---and didn't create enough jobs---for a Development Democrat to brag about.

Odd too that he thinks the good opinion of John King---who likes Octavia Blvd, the Beth Shalom synagogue, and the "vision" of more highrises in downtown San Francisco---is something to be coveted. Among the important things Mayor Brown "screwed up": the homeless issue. He doesn't mention an important part of his "legacy": the Central Subway, the political deal disguised as an expensive, poorly-designed transportation project.

If the State of California goes ahead with the high-speed rail project, it will force the neglect of other important issues, like the $11 billion water bond that Governor Brown is now hoping to take off the ballot to clear the way for his proposed tax hikes.

And there's the "wall of debt" the state faces that will force cuts in other programs, including the public school system:  

Brown first used the "wall of debt" term last year in describing the accumulated borrowing that allowed lawmakers and past governors to claim they had balanced the budget. The largest piece of the wall is $10.4 billion in deferred payments to K-12 schools and community colleges. Deferred payments are those promised in one year but then paid in the next, even as schools are told to spend as if they actually had the money. The deferrals have continued year after year, and today schools are receiving about 20 percent less than they should, forcing districts to borrow, dip into reserves or spend even less. California also still owes more than $6 billion from traditional borrowing used to balance the budget under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with other billions in internal borrowing and delayed payments to Medi-Cal, CalPERS and local governments for unpaid mandates, among other things...

...Still, making cuts like those proposed to the state's welfare program, which would reduce the amount of time most people receive aid from four years to two years, along with the proposed elimination of 71,000 subsidies for child care, would have a negative economic impact, said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project. The nonpartisan group advocates for low-income Californians.

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