In fairy tale lore, the story is told of a troll who lived under a bridge and tried to make a meal ticket out of anyone who wanted to cross it.
California has greatly improved on this scam by first making a meal ticket out of the taxpayers who are forced to pay for the construction of the bridge, and then by endlessly spending money on it even though the bridge doesn’t actually go anywhere. For example, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new budget proposal calls for another $4.2 billion to finish a 119-mile segment of the California high-speed rail project in the Central Valley.
Voters approved almost $10 billion in bonds back in 2008 to build a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles and were promised that it would be built without a tax increase and operated without a public subsidy. The rail authority was supposed to acquire all the needed land parcels ahead of the start of construction, and the finished rail line was supposed to whisk passengers between the Bay Area and L.A. in less than three hours. The cost of the project was estimated at $33 billion.
Talk about a fairy tale.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority seems to have given up trying to persuade anyone that the purpose of the project is transportation. Its latest press release describes the bullet train as “35 active job sites and more than 7,000 construction jobs created to date.” Nobody’s going anywhere on the train anytime soon, unless you count the vacation travel of the consultants who continue to charge the rail authority for “planning” the rest of the project.
Newsom’s new budget proposal, unveiled Monday, aims to get $4.2 billion in “those final appropriations” to “finish the job in the Central Valley,” where construction of the bullet train has been underway for seven years. Some of the money would go toward more work on the 119-mile segment between Merced and Bakersfield. Some of the money would go toward writing highly technical fairy tales of how the high-speed rail project will one day reach San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as Anaheim.
This continues the battle that was suspended last September, when the governor clashed with legislative leaders over that same $4.2 billion. The sum is what’s left of the nearly $10 billion authorized by voters in 2008. Newsom’s revised budget in May called for giving all that money to the rail authority to start the work of electrifying the Merced-to-Bakersfield segment. But some lawmakers think it would be better to use less expensive diesel engines and spend some of the money on transportation improvements in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
Newsom has refused to go along with that, insisting that electrified rail is essential.
So plans continue for a $13.8 billion, 119-mile segment of rail between Merced and Bakersfield, even as waste and mismanagement of the project are chronicled on a regular basis by critics including the state auditor. Last April, two of the project’s contractors criticized the rail authority for failing to acquire the land needed for construction, causing scheduling problems and an additional two-year delay. In December, the Fresno Bee reported that more than 200 pieces of needed property in the Valley had yet to be acquired.
Last year, Southern California lawmakers including Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Transportation Committee chair Laura Friedman were holding out to try to divert some of the unspent bullet-train money on improvements to Union Station in Los Angeles as well as Metrolink, the commuter rail line. But since then, unprecedented federal aid and growing state revenues have put a lot more change in the couch cushions.
The rail authority has just gleefully announced that it has fully met the requirement for state matching funds for federal dollars in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding grant from 2009. The terms of the grant required the rail authority to spend $2.5 billion in federal funds by September 2017, and then match the expenditure with state funds for qualified expenses by December 2022.
The project is chewing up your state taxes and your federal taxes simultaneously, and it will forever be hungry for more.
Fairy tale trolls can only marvel in admiration.