Thursday, July 12, 2012

Senator Yee gets an offer he can't refuse

High-speed rail supporters: Ma, Brown, and Yee (Getty Images)

Matier and Ross tell us how the financially ruinous $4.6 billion in high-speed rail bonds were passed in the State Senate last week:

It took a big behind-the-scenes push from the governor and organized labor---plus a slew of calls from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to fellow Democrats---to pull off the state Senate's squeaker approval of high-speed rail Friday. There wasn't a lot of arm twisting---just a final offer that 21 Democratic senators couldn't refuse.
"That having something was better than nothing," said state Sen. Leland Yee.
Yee, D-San Francisco, was among the many senators who got a one-on-one over the phone from Pelosi, who told them that "nothing" was pretty much what California could expect---instead of $3.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for the project---if they didn't approve the deal as is.
"She made it clear that there was no alternative plan that Washington, D.C., looks on in a favorable way," Yee said.
In other words, get the 130-mile demonstration track going in the Central Valley, or forget about all the sweetener funds---like the $61 million for San Francisco's Central Subway, the $140 million for new BART cars or the $106 million to upgrade Caltrain.

The "something" Senator Yee voted for will require the state to pay more than $300 million a year in interest just to service the $4.6 billion bonds. Voting for high-speed rail is essentially voting for nothing but more debt for state taxpayers, since it's unlikely to ever get built. The close senate vote is bad news for supporters of high-speed rail, since it shows how little public support the project has. The Feds are not going to pick up the $300 million expense; that will be up to the state's taxpayers. Nor will they pay for the inevitable cost overruns to build the 130 miles of tracks to nowhere; it won't be a train, just the tracks. The state's taxpayers will pick up that tab, too. 

Too bad that Yee didn't have enough spine to call Pelosi's bluff. It's not credible that the Obama administration would have dumped those pet Bay Area projects if Yee voted against the bonds. Besides, those projects should stand or fall on their own merits without being linked to high-speed rail. But those were the "sweeteners" the Democratic Party honchos used to get Yee and other senators to vote for the stupid high-speed rail project. 

In any event, the Central Subway, Caltrain, and BART payments are arguably illegal under the high-speed rail Proposition 1A passed by voters in 2008, which will be sorted out by the many lawsuits against the high-speed rail project. 

What do new BART cars have to do with high-speed rail? Nothing much. [Later: I was wrong about this. Re-reading the implementing legislation, new BART cars can be legally justified. See AB3034, 2704.095 on page 10] Ditto for the Central Subway money, which is different than money for the downtown terminal, which is supposed to be a high-speed rail station. The city already gets $500 million of the high-speed rail money for that.

The Caltrain money is justified under the sketchy "blended" idea whereby high-speed rail and Caltrain will share tracks. That too is dubious, since that plan will surely slow the high-speed trains way below the legally required two-hour-and-forty minute trip between LA and SF, not to mention the fact that Union Pacific owns the right-of-way and shows no interest in giving it up.

Yee is quoted in the LA Times during the debate:

"The ridership is not in the Central Valley," said Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), speaking Thursday night. "The ridership is along the 101 corridor," referring to the U.S. highway stretching from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.

Well, yes. So why vote for the Central Valley segment? Because his political career as a Democrat would have been over if he voted against the bonds. No party or union support---the unions are major hogs at the trough on both the Central Subway and high-speed rail---next time he runs for office, and the ambitious Yee is always running for something.

Yee's office usually turns out a press release every time he wipes his butt, but there's been nothing released about his vote for the high-speed boondoggle. Gee, I wonder why?

CalWatchdog on California's dismal financial situation.

Here's a sample of the issues that are being litigated from the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail.