“The Escape Artists,” the new book about the Obama administration’s economic policy-making, has an amazing story about who’s responsible for the decision to dump tens of billions of dollars in federal stimulus money into bullet-train debacles. One Chris Reed, writing at Cal Watchdog, has all the details.
After Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher got national attention for self-righteously quitting the GOP to pursue the San Diego mayor’s seat as an independent, it was inevitable that Arnold Schwarzenegger would write an L.A. Times op-ed patting himself on the back for being a constructive non-Neanderthal maverick Republican. Years before he was fine-tuning the constructive maverick narrative for Fletcher, political guru Matt David was doing it for John McCain, Arnold and Jon Huntsman. But the problem for Schwarzenegger is what he leaves out of his op-ed — his assault on the Sacramento establishment from 2003-2005 — and what he leaves in — implied championing of three of the left’s biggest boondoggles: Obamacare, green jobs and the bullet train. If I were Fletcher, I’m not sure I’d want to be linked to Arnold.
The narrative that held the California High-Speed Rail Authority had finally figured out a smart path forward thanks to the stewardship of new board Chairman Dan Richard took a huge hit last week when the authority abruptly reversed course and said it would include Orange County after all in its first phase. So much for new realism and new austerity. This week, Richard’s rep took another hit with his bizarre likening of the bullet train fiasco to a Southern California Association of Governments’ long-term plan that has all kinds of dedicated funding sources. Yo, Dan: We’re paying attention. Acting confident and aggressively trying to cow journalists who pose tough questions can only take you so far. At some point, everyone will figure out you’re still putting lipstick on a pig.
I roared with laughter when I saw the alert saying the geniuses at the California High-Speed Rail Authority had changed their minds and added a direct Orange County line back to their revised business plan. All that praise for being realistic and for bringing the mythical cost down to $68 billion and the kudos from Sen. Feinstein for smartly avoiding construction in crowded urban areas? Never mind. It’s back to the selling of the bullet train as political pork once again. Yo, Edmund G. “Jerry” — thanks for the guffaws. That extra layer of spectacle and silliness you’ve added to this mess since going all-in last year? It’s been a treat!
This Chris Reed fella, writing in the L.A. Daily News, has some good news about the California High-Speed Rail Authority:
Why would the [California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers] turn on their normal allies and oppose plans for the bullet train? Because of the growing evidence that Gov. Jerry Brown thinks the only plausible way to fund the project is with the fees that heavy industries pay for the right to pollute under AB 32, the state’s landmark 2006 anti-global warming law. The state Legislative Analyst’s Office expects the fees from the “cap and trade” system to generate billions of dollars annually — perhaps as much as $14 billion by 2015.
Monday’s L.A. Times story with this headline — “Bid to appease bullet train critics may violate law” — and this subhead — “Revisions are in conflict with the ballot measure approved by voters and may go against the Obama administration’s plans. Gov. Jerry Brown backs the changes but admits potential legal problems” escaped my notice for a day. But it’s epochal: It points out the clear path to the bullet train’s demise. Sharp attorneys hired by well-heeled opponents of the project — whether they are cities in the Silicon Valley, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association or Central Valley agribusiness, or all three in tandem — are going to kill this dead in court, using the incredibly specific provisions in Proposition 1A exactly as they were intended: to prevent a boondoggle. Hip hip hooray!
The national media have devoted plenty of skeptical attention to California’s bullet-train boondoggle—from the ballooning cost of the California High-Speed Rail Authority project to its shoddy management to the baffling decision to build the first segment in the lightly populated Central Valley. But the press has yet to focus on a crucial fact: the bullet train isn’t just some quirky Left Coast fiasco; it’s also a grotesque waste of federal money. The project serves as a powerful reminder of the Obama administration’s mishandling of the $787 billion stimulus that Congress passed in February 2009 with solemn assurances of prudence and accountability. The bullet-train project, in fact, can be thought of as “Solyndra times seven”—that’s how far its costs outstrip those of the much-touted Bay Area solar panel manufacturer that burned through $528 million in federal loans before declaring bankruptcy and folding last September.
Jerry Brown can bully and bluster and name-call all he wants to revive the deranged assault on sanity that is the bullet-train project, but there are Senate Democrats who just disregard his propaganda and point to the basics. In a polarized Capitol full of partisan hacks, these people are — I’m going there, people, yes I am — taxpayer heroes. What a comment on modern politics that being honest is all you need to rise to hero status.