A Golden State Train Wreck

Thursday, 09 Aug 2012 10:15 AM

By George Will

Share:
  Comment  |
   Contact Us  |
  Print  
|  A   A  
  Copy Shortlink
State Sen. Joe Simitian's district office near Stanford's campus is nestled among shops sporting excruciatingly cute names ("A Street Bike Named Desire," "Mom's the Word" maternity wear) intended to make the progressive gentry comfortable with upscale consumption by presenting it as whimsical.

This community surely has its share of advanced thinkers who believe trains are wonderful because they are not cars (rampant individualism; people going wherever and whenever they want, unsupervised).

Nevertheless, Simitian was one of just four Democratic state senators who recently voted — in vain — to derail plans that eventually may involve spending more than $100 billion on a 500-mile bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Simitian makes the obligatory genuflection: He favors high-speed rail "done right." But having passed sixth-grade arithmetic, he has doubts. At one point, an estimate of 44 million riders a year — subsequently revised downward, substantially — assumed gasoline costing $40 a gallon.

Democracy, said H.L. Mencken, is the theory that people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard. In 2008, Californians passed an initiative authorizing $9.95 billion in bonds to build what they were told would be a $33 billion high-speed rail system. California, constantly lurching from one budget crisis to a worse one, could not nearly afford even that, and soon the price was re-estimated at around $100 billion.

Not to worry, said Gov. Jerry Brown, the real price will be only $68.5 billion. Why? Partly because it will be less than bullet-like, not requiring extra expensive roadbed.

Note Brown's hilarious ".5." Such is his precision, in May his projection of a $15.7 billion state budget deficit was 70 percent higher than his January estimate.

Eager to hook states on higher spending, especially for high-speed rail, the Obama administration wants California to quickly spend $3.3 billion of federal funding (much of it borrowed from China, one source of Barack Obama's train envy). Simitian says the $3.3 billion is about 5 percent of the cost "if the project stays on budget." If. The $3.3 billion and $2.7 billion of state money would finance 130 miles of track in the Central Valley — a train from, and to, nowhere.

Simitian notes that the 130 miles would not be high-speed rail and would not be electrified, and that there are no commitments for more federal funds, or for any dedicated funding source, or for private funding. And the 2008 ballot measure that launched this folly forbids tax money for operating subsidies.

California’s voters evidently understand that Washington's $3.3 billion is spending for the purpose of committing Sacramento to much greater spending: Polls show that 59 percent would now reject the project they authorized. But Democrats will not allow reconsideration. They like direct democracy but love spending.

Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker rejected $810 million in federal money for a 78-mile high-speed rail project paralleling Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and Madison. Ohio's Republican Gov. John Kasich rejected $400 million for a high-speed (well, about automobile speed) train paralleling Interstate 71 between Cleveland and Cincinnati. Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion for 90 miles of high-speed rail paralleling Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando.

In faith-based transportation policy, rail worshipers believe people will park their cars in Tampa and then rent cars in Orlando.

Brown's reverence for his rail bauble is fanaticism. Or perhaps filial piety: His father, governor from 1959 to 1967, built much of the freeway and water infrastructure for post-war California.

When the son was first elected governor 38 years ago, he seemed exotic; now he embodies progressivism's banality. Then he wanted a California space program; now he is fixated on railroads, a 19th-century technology. His prescription for California's ailments is higher taxes and expensive trains. Fortunately, the latter obsession may stymie the former.

Come November, Californians will vote on Brown's recipe for reviving this slow-growth, high-tax state: Raise income taxes "temporarily" on the rich, and on everybody with a "temporary" sales tax increase. But with public services being slashed — some communities have lopped a week off the school year, with other contractions perhaps still to come — voters may reject more revenues for Sacramento while it is showering many scores of billions on trains.

The 21st century may end before Brown's sort-of-high-speed rail service begins. Coagulated California is so clotted with environmental regulations and lawyers that turning a spade of earth — Spare that endangered toad! — invites decades of litigation. Regarding high-speed rail, this is the good news.

George F. Will is one of today's most recognized writers, with more than 450 newspapers, a Newsweek column, and his appearances as a political commentator on ABC. Read more reports from George Will — Click Here Now.








© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Share:
  Comment  |
   Contact Us  |
  Print  
  Copy Shortlink
Around the Web
Join the Newsmax Community
>> Register to share your comments with the community.
>> Login if you are already a member.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
Email:
Retype Email:
Country
Zip Code:
 
Hot Topics
Follow Newsmax
Like us
on Facebook
Follow us
on Twitter
Add us
on Google Plus
Around the Web
You May Also Like

Supreme Court Hears Obamacare Govt Overreach Case

Monday, 21 Apr 2014 07:32 AM

Should a government agency fine or imprison any candidate or other participant in the political process who during a cam . . .

The Constitution Limits Majority Rule

Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 10:50 AM

In a 2006 interview, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said the Constitution is "basically about" one word — "democra . . .

Female GOP Candidates Counter 'War on Women'

Monday, 14 Apr 2014 16:58 PM

Robert Griffin, now 90, who rose to be second in the Republican U.S. Senate leadership, was defeated in 1978. Since then . . .

Most Commented

Newsmax, Moneynews, and Independent. American. are registered trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc. Newsmax TV, NewsmaxWorld, NewsmaxHealth, are trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc.

 
NEWSMAX.COM
America's News Page
©  Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved