Pop quiz. Which of the following statements is true? A. California High speed rail (HSR) will allow riders to travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco in about two and a half hours for $50. B. The total cost of HSR will be about $40 billion. C. About half the cost of HSR will be picked up by the private sector and the federal government. D. If you like your plan you can keep it.
If you answered none of the above, you are correct and probably good at spotting misinformation put out by the political class to manipulate public opinion.
The first 3 statements come from arguments by those who supported Proposition 1A, or, as it was called, the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century, which appeared on the ballot in 2008. Using rosy estimates of short travel times at low cost, along with several million dollars provided by labor unions to get the message out, promoters of Proposition 1A convinced voters to approve a $10 billion bond. It also helped that the glowingly positive ballot title and summary, which are supposed to be objective and are usually written by the attorney general, were prepared by members of the Legislature who wrote the bond measure.
Five years after the passage of Proposition 1A, estimates of travel times and ticket prices have doubled, the total cost of the project could surpass $100 billion and there is not one dollar of private sector money committed to the project. The idea of dedicated track for a high speed system has been tossed aside in favor of a “blended system” where high speed trains would compete for track space with commuter and freight lines. Even if the private railroads which own the right of way to the track gave their blessing to the plan (which they have emphatically refused) this would still significantly increase commute time.
Realizing the impossibility of keeping the promises made to voters, in March of this year, the High Speed Rail Authority filed a “validation action,” suing everyone in the state. If no one responded, they would have slipped the noose. The authority would have received a court ruling allowing the issuance of almost nine billion dollars in bonds to fund construction of a rail system that no longer resembles what voters approved with the passage of Proposition 1A.
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and others answered the complaint for validation. HJTA requested that the court deny the issuance of the bonds on the grounds that the High Speed Rail Authority’s plans had so deviated from the promises made to voters in Proposition 1A, that bonds for the project had not received voter approval.
Taxpayers received good news last week when Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny denied the Rail Authority permission to put taxpayers in debt almost nine billion dollars, to use on a project not even remotely close to what the State pitched to California voters when they approved high speed rail five years ago. Judge Kenny’s ruling denied the validation because there was no evidence to support the idea that it was “necessary and desirable” to issue the bonds.
In a separate ruling, the judge found that the State’s current funding plan did not conform to the requirements of Proposition 1A and he ordered the State to draft a new plan that does conform. Among the requirements placed in statute by Proposition 1A is the requirement that the system be self-funding, needing no new taxes or government subsidies. As even the High Speed Rail Authority knows, this is now impossible.
However, while the court ruling should give encouragement to taxpayers, readers who passed the exam at the top of the page will be aware that government bureaucrats can be as mindlessly relentless as zombies, and the critically flawed bullet train project is likely to be as hard to kill as the Walking Dead.