The establishment slowly turns against bullet-train boondoggle

Is media sanity suddenly emerging in response to the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s determination to build the biggest public-works boondoggle in world history? It feels that way. The editorial pages of the L.A. Times and Sac Bee may still be playing let’s pretend about the transcendent glories of the project, ignoring its immense flaws. But the reporting in recent months by the Times, California Watch, the San Jose Mercury-News and the San Francisco Chronicle suggests that journos have finally figured out the whole thing is a stinking sham. Now one more respected state journalist — Contra Costa Times editorial writer and columnist Daniel Borenstein — has jumped in with a whupping that focuses on the costs of borrowing the $9.95 billion that voters approved for the project.

Payments on the high-speed rail bonds would eventually add as much as $750 million a year [to general fund costs].

Yet the bonds would cover just a small fraction of the project. Voters approved borrowing $9 billion for high-speed rail. Total cost for a system stretching from Sacramento to San Diego was estimated at $45 billion. The rest of the money was to come from the federal government and private investment. But the project voters approved is not the one on the table today. The cost estimate increased to $98.5 billion to $118 billion for a system linking just San Francisco and Anaheim.

Only $3 billion of outside money, mostly from one-time federal stimulus funds, has been secured. Beyond that, backers desperately argue that private investors and the federal government will eventually come through if taxpayers pony up first.

It’s not only fantasy, it’s insulting — reminiscent of mortgage brokers at the peak of the housing bubble who issued loans promising unrealistic future dividends without regard to the consequences to the borrowers. … 

The 2008 ballot measure provided a safety valve: The rail bonds require legislators’ approval. They should reject them for two reasons. First, the current plan is not what voters approved. Second, we can’t afford it.

We needed much more of such sanity in 2008, when voters were swept away by a tsunami of rail-cultist double talk and Green Kool-Aid about the alleged glories of high-speed rail. Let’s hope this tsunami recedes on the bullet train and many other issues as well. California is in bad enough shape without so many self-inflicted policy wounds.

Meanwhile, let’s check in with the Calwhine sports book and see what the latest bullet-train odds are:

LIkelihood Jerry Brown will disavow the project before his first term ends: 3 to 1 that he will

Chances Calitics‘ Robert Cruickshank dismisses any and all future criticism as have nothing to do with facts and everything to do with the culture war: 100 percent

Chances Cathleen Galgiani qualifies for Mensa: 100,000 to 1

Odds full project will ever be completed for under $300 billion: 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,022 to 1

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