Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

July 7, 2012

California kids no longer get breakfast but the big kids get their train

Governor Brown blue-penciled breakfast for inner-city kids from the annual budget, but he lobbied, cajoled, flattered, and strong-armed his “Democratic” associates to put a train set under their Christmas tree. The sad thing is that the kids won’t get to play with it or even ride it. They’ll be too busy paying the new taxes to complete the project and maintain it.

It just doesn’t make any sense.  California experiences one of the worst recessions in years, with projected short-falls and continued, bloated over-spending that, when projected over a very short period of time, will spend the Golden State into bankruptcy. When you’ve crossed the prairie and now stand leaning before a cliff, one doesn’t build a high-speed train across the prairie. It just means you’ll fall from the cliff all the faster.

Judy Lin’s AP article on the celebration over the green light given to start building could be a blueprint of this disaster in themaking.

The Train of Dreams

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers gave the green light to start building the nation’s first dedicated high-speed rail line, a multibillion dollar project that will eventually link Los Angeles and San Francisco.

At the outset one has to ask why San Francisco to Los Angeles? Why not Sacramento to Los Angeles? That would seem to make more sense.  The power-base in California is in Los Angeles and their offices are in Sacramento, at least their bought-and-paid-for government offices.  The projected route is through the Central Valley anyway.  Why San Francisco?  I realize that San Francisco has become the bedroom community for Los Angeles, but this project is a massive overspend just to accommodate a late-night rendezvous.

How are they planning to get to Los Angeles from Bakersfield? Via bus like AmTrak?  The cost of building a rail over Tejon Pass was prohibitive 100 years ago and it’s still prohibitive.  High speed only works on the flat, not up over 4,100 vertical feet. Bullet trains tend to really slow down when they go uphill.  The only alternative is to use Cajon Pass over the Tehachapi Mountains out near San Bernardino; it’s only 3,777 feet high.  There’s more land on this side of the state, but it’s still up hill.

The move marked major political victories for Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and the Obama administration. Both have promoted bullet trains as job generators and clean transportation alternatives.

Political victories?  Hmmm.  “Politics” is a marvelous word.  It comes from two Greek words: “poli” meaning many and “tics,” blood-sucking creatures.  California has enough trouble on its own without coupling its future to the Obama railroad’s consistent failure to create jobs and create “clean” anything.  The fed has not created any jobs and Obama’s investments into so-called “green technologies” (on our behalf) have only been green because of the cold hard cash being ripped from the pockets of citizens.  I wonder if there will be a tax for not riding this train.

Jerry Brown still lives in the shadow of his father, former Governor Pat Brown.  The senior Brown built a legacy in this state with massive public-works projects.  But the difference was that he had a balanced budget with which to begin.  He built his dams, highways and infrastructures on the bedrock of sound economic principals, not the shifting-sands of Obama’s and the younger Brown’s wishful thinking and failed state budgets.

“The Legislature took bold action today that gets Californians back to work and puts California out in front once again,” Brown said.

Bold action?   No, it’s a brash action.  It was stupid.  California isn’t ready for such an expense. Nowhere in the plan does it talk about how to maintain this bullet train once it gets going.  Who’s going to pay for that?  Taxes on the non-riders?  Ask yourself the question: Is AmTrak solvent?  Has the ridership kept up with the projections?  Is it self-sufficient?

Brown pushed for the massive infrastructure project to accommodate expected growth in the nation’s most populous state, which now has 37 million people. State and federal officials also said high-speed rail would create jobs.

The project is doomed from the start. The same people who project income and expenditures for the state budget are also the people who project “expected growth.”  Excuse the pun, but their track record has not only been lousy, but perilous.

“No economy can grow faster than its transportation network allows,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “With highways between California cities congested and airspace at a premium, Californians desperately need an alternative.”

Airspace is at a premium; that’s for sure.  But not the flights that could occur.  Airlines have been cutting back on flights, not expanding them.  We don’t need an alternative, we need folks who have the money to travel. There’s a difference.  The most bizarre twist in this story has to do with the “congested” highways between California cities.  Los Angeles, one of the terminus cities on this train to nowhere, is considering charging a fee now for folks to use the HOV lanes on their freeways!  Have you guys been talking to each other?  The HOV lanes were built to encourage riders/drivers to double-up and relieve some of the congestion on existing routes.  They worked.  Traveling down the 55 to the 5 to the 22 to the 405 the other day, we scooted right along, bemoaning the plight of bumper-to-bumper stopped traffic in the other, non-HOV lanes.  But because of their success, these same law-makers want to use this as a money-maker to offset their bloated spending.  The train is doomed. California “desperately need(s) an alternative,” that’s for sure… but not a train.

The bill authorizes the state to begin selling $4.5 billion in voter-approved bonds that includes $2.6 billion to build an initial 130-mile stretch of the high-speed rail line in the agriculturally rich Central Valley. That allows the state to draw another $3.2 billion in federal funding.

A Disaster before it was Built

When I read, “voter-approved bonds” I hear, it’s your fault.  “You voted for them so don’t complain when the project fails or when you have to spend more of your hard-earned income to support failed projects.” That kind of rhetoric defines the difference between a statesman and a politician.  One knows when, where, how, who and why and is able to say “no” the latest gimmick or fad; the latter simply says “where’s mine.”

The first segment of the line will run from Madera to Bakersfield.

Ask the citizens of Madera and Bakersfield about the existing train that runs between their two cities. Efficient, timely, inexpensive, clean, self-sufficient?  If it’s so good, why do we need another?  How does more speed solve any of these problems?

The final cost of the completed project from Los Angeles to San Francisco is projected to be $68 billion.

Are the same folks “projecting” this “final cost” of $68 billion?  Sorry, but they are.  We get $4.5 billion from bonds yet to be sold and $3.2 billion from Washington.  Remember! $1.28 billion of that money from Washington is borrowed money.  Yup, you’ll be paying for that same money for about 60 years to come.  What a deal!  But it just doesn’t add up.  $4.5 and $3.2 equals $7.7 billion. That leaves $61 billion out there in the land of winkin, blinkin and nod.  I hope there’s a provision in the contract that says “$68 billion is absolute.  Build it for that and don’t seek more cause there ain’t any.” Except for the Hoover Dam, what other government project ever came in on time and under budget?

Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is managing the project, said California would have lost billions of dollars in federal aid if the Senate fails to pass the bill before adjourning Friday for a month long recess.

To Mr. Richard I say, “So what?” That so-called “federal aid” has a price for all of us—40% is borrowed money.  Whether legislators take bribes from lobbyists or other government officials, it doesn’t make a difference.  Wake up Californians! Any money that comes to California from Washington originated in California.  It was your money to begin with!

“Not only will California be the first state in the nation to build a high-speed rail system to connect our urban centers, we will also modernize and improve rail systems at the local and regional level,” Richard said Friday.

Ahah! So the money can be used for other purposes.  Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin were smart. They said, “No.”  California should do likewise.

“Is there additional commitment of federal funds? There is not. Is there additional commitment of private funding? There is not. Is there a dedicated funding source that we can look to in the coming years? There is not,” Simitian said.

Finally, a voice of reason. Mr. Simitian is a Democrat for whom I could vote, at least on this issue.  We don’t know about any future federal funds? What happens when a change of leadership takes place in Washington? Is there a specified funding source for the duration of the project and for its ongoing maintenance? No.  If California doesn’t have $68 billion in the bank right now, then we’re not ready for a bullet train

The bill, which already passed the state Assembly, heads to Brown for his signature.

I pray Mr. Brown uses his blue pencil to eliminate this folly as quickly as he took food out of kids’ mouths.  Those kids have a future if they can eat.

Where’s Woodie Guthrie when you need him?  His famous piece, “This Train’s Bound for Glory” is apropos here:

This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory,
Don’t carry nothing but the righteous and the holy.
This train is bound for glory, this train.

This train don’t carry no gamblers, this train;
This train don’t carry no gamblers, this train;
This train don’t carry no gamblers,
Liars, thieves, nor big shot ramblers,
This train is bound for glory, this train.

This train don’t carry no liars, this train;
This train don’t carry no liars, this train;
This train don’t carry no liars,
She’s streamlined and a midnight flyer,
This train don’t carry no liars, this train.

This train don’t carry no smokers, this train;
This train don’t carry no smokers, this train
This train don’t carry no smokers,
Two bit liars, small time jokers,
This train don’t carry no smokers, this train.

This train don’t carry no con men, this train;
This train don’t carry no con men, this train;
This train don’t carry no con men,
No wheeler dealers, here and gone men,
This train don’t carry no con men, this train.

This train don’t carry no rustlers, this train;
This train don’t carry no rustlers, this train;
This train don’t carry no rustlers,
Sidestreet walkers, two bit hustlers,
This train is bound for glory, this train.

Mr. Brown, tear up those plans.

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