California Senate votes to keep high-speed rail

posted at 1:01 pm on July 7, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

The good news?  Four Democrats in the California state senate actually flipped and tried to stop the $100 billion project in a state with chronic ten-figure budget holes from going forward.  The bad news?  That’s apparently all of the common sense left in California’s political class:

The state Senate voted by a bare majority today to fund initial construction of California’s $68 billion high-speed rail project.

The approval was uncertain as recently as hours before the vote. With all 15 Republican senators opposed to the measure and several Democratic lawmakers wavering, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg scrambled to muster at least 21 of 25 Democratic votes. …

Sen. Joe Simitian, of Palo Alto, was one of four Democrats to break ranks with his colleagues. Simitian said he supports the vision of high-speed rail, but not the current plan. He said there are “billions of reasons” to oppose it.

Zombie admits at PJ Media to being a train buff — but not an insane debt-load and gargantuan-subsidies buff:

But even I, an unapologetic train lover, shake my head in dismay at this vote. The cost isn’t just high, it’s patently absurd, like a script from a Swiftian satire about political boondoggles.

And the first leg to be completed — which the Obama administration insisted upon, because it’s the only portion of the route that isn’t undergoing environmental challenges — essentially leads from nowhere to nowhere. Perhaps the citizens of Bakersfield will protest at being classified as “nowhere,” but the good people of Madera (whose own State Senator voted against the funding) I’m sure are honest to know that their city has minimal (if any) tourist or business-travel appeal. The number of people who need to take high-speed rail from Madera to Bakersfield can be counted on one finger, while the number of people who desperately need to rocket from Bakersfield to Madera is approximately one less than that.

Will the rest of the line ever be completed in my lifetime? Doubtful. And even if it were, as critics have rightfully pointed out from the beginning, the high-speed rail will cover the same route as innumberable commercial air carriers who travel the exact same distance in less time, for less money, with vastly more frequent departures. What motivation would anyone have to take the train, aside from nostalgic old train buffs in goofy conductors’ caps (present company excluded)?

I’ve written about this misbegotten boondoggle for over three years.  Normally, I’d say that if California voters want the state to go broke, that’s their business — but it’s not, for two reasons.  First, a significant amount of federal funding will go into this project, starting with the three billion dollars California will get now that the legislature has approved construction on the first leg — and that won’t be the last federal money, either.  Second, when California declares bankruptcy, the state will put a lot of pressure on the federal government for a bailout.  The stimulus package that will supply that $3 billion consisted in large part of state bailouts anyway, through block grants that helped California and other states paper over budget gaps in the midst of the financial crisis.  Obama wants another round of these bailouts to keep AFSCME and SEIU jobs from getting axed in a long-overdue resizing of state and local government bureaucracies, as well as desperately needed pension reforms opposed by both unions.

So now California will ignore the reports from their own auditor and the project’s own California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group to throw money into a “fundamentally flaw[ed]” boondoggle that will add $100 billion in costs just for construction alone to California taxpayers, in a state that already can’t pay its bills, all to produce a fixed-rail transport system that is slower than the robust air transit between its Points A and B, which will straddle the state’s worst geographic fault system, and whose first stage will connect two cities that have no need for high-speed travel between them.  Unfortunately, that’s not satire.


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