This just in from Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, who has been a leading critic of the current proposals to fund High Speed Rail in California with billions of dollars in public spending…
THE VOTERS GET IT
By Assemblywoman Diane Harkey
A recent Field Poll found that voters are connecting the dots from debt to taxes much quicker than their elected officials. Governor Brown and many Sacramento Democrats seem unable to set priorities even though the state is bankrupt, boasts the lowest credit rating in the nation, must borrow $10 billion for short-term cash flow needs, while cutting public safety dollars and practicing “catch and release” for state prisoners. We rank near the bottom of the 50 states in public education achievement and the Sacramento solution is to realign that function and implement trigger cuts IF voters don’t agree to raise taxes in November. But, billions in debt funding for one hundred miles of track with no train, no ridership and no cost analysis is still on the table.
Thursday, on a party line vote the Assembly Democrats in the Legislature approved $8 billion for high speed rail that transfers control of funding and local transportation projects to the High Speed Rail Authority until 2018. The bill placed the Authority, with a new Chairman chosen from the Parsons Brinckerhoff contractor pool, in charge of continuous appropriation of state debt, repaid by general fund tax dollars, for a multibillion dollar project with no oversight for 5 years. Today, the Senate that actually took time to debate and read Senate Bill 1029 approved the plan allowing 4 Democrats, in districts with alert voters, to escape the ire of their constituents.
A recently unearthed June 8th opinion by Legislative Counsel on the business plan was very telling. The “blended system” incorporating funding for the book-ends in San Francisco-San Jose and LA-Anaheim corridors could be problematic under the voter approved $9.95 billion bond. And, only a contorted legal logic supports throwing $6 billion at an un-electrified piece of track in the Central Valley.
Senators in Democrat controlled areas such as the Peninsula cities stretching from San Francisco to San Jose are facing unrest from their constituents, some of the most vocal, educated and organized groups opposing the project. Central Valley residents and agricultural interests have filed suit to halt the proposed carnage of their businesses, water infrastructure and communities under California’s Environmental Quality Act and bond funding requirements. In addition, noting that Southern California may be out of the loop for funding improvements to existing rail, and that Central Valley initial segment may very well be a stranded project, Orange, San Diego, Riverside and even LA representatives should have found the “cram down” tough to justify.
The Governor wants tax increases but the reality of turning away $3 billion in federal funds, even if acceptance saddles our state with more debt and local taxes, for infrastructure we don’t need and won’t use is too much to expect. After all according to the Legislative floor debate, California has great weather, aspires to dream “big” and compete with failing and bankrupt European nations that have heavily subsidized high speed trains. Maybe we can form a partnership with another country to “help” if we agree to allow their unemployed to contract with our state. With any luck, or a cozy relationship with Wall Street, we may even be able to “securitize” future cap and trade revenues to borrow more to pay our bills and contractors. Opportunities to create more booms, busts and debt abound. Besides they can always vote for taxes after the voters reject them in a lame-duck session after November before new members are sworn in.
After all, once this year’s Legislature terms out, who will remain behind to oversee and understand this complex project? Only the people of California; the more they learn the less they like, and the more they connect the dots between this centralized money and power grab and taxes. The voters get it, and if they remain engaged before and after November, Sacramento will follow their lead. Elections matter.