Californians have an addiction to bonds — and not the cool #007 kind, either.
For every taxpayer-protecting Proposition 13 ballot measure Californians approve, they then give thumbs-up to several bond measures for questionable projects. As a classic example for my fellow Americans wondering how California found its way to its own fiscal cliff, I offer you Proposition 1A, the bond measure for the bullet train.
In 2008, after millions of dollars in advertising, Californians were persuaded to pass Proposition 1A and provide $9.95 billion in bond seed money for the high speed bullet train, despite the fact was no hard evidence supporting any the claims made about ridership, pollution reduction, or job creation — and apparently forgetting the interest ($9.5 billion) costs of the bonds. Furthermore, the realities of construction have tripled the initial cost estimates and the first train won’t be running until 2033.
A San Diego writer for the SoCal Tax Revolt Coalition, Dean Riehm, follows the unfolding fiscal fiasco closely. He noted when the California High-Speed Rail Authority named Jeff Morales as the Chief Executive Officer of the bullet train project: Morales has close ties to Sacramento politicos and worked for Parsons Brinckerhoff, the project’s largest contractor.
Does this all stink to high heaven or what? Massively over-budget, massively behind schedule and massively understaffed so they do the only thing they can do at this point: they bring in a politically-connected fixer from the project’s largest contractor to get this thing done by hook or by crook regardless of the shady appearances it bears.
Of course, they did. Of course, they did. And we never saw it coming. Shame on us.
At one point, train proponents touted a “cost reduction” to $68.4 billion from the total for the completed project, instead of the potential $98.5 billion projected. These numbers are still well above the estimate initially provided to the voters, which was advertised $33-$40 billion.
It turns out that riders will have to change trains twice between the two cities. This is just one of the many discrepancies between what Californians thought they were getting in Proposition 1A and what actually is being implemented.
This saga would not be complete without the intervention of a judge. A lawsuit against the project is being brought by Central Valley Farmers. The farmers had hoped to stop construction while the legal cases were decided. However, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley recently denied that request, reasoning that construction is not expected to begin until after the merits of three lawsuits over high-speed rail plans are decided.
The other two cases are being brought by property owners and environmentalists. It seems that both California’s left and right agree: The $9.95 billion dollar bond dream of a “rocket” between Los Angeles and San Francisco has morphed into an epic financial, economic, and environmental nightmare.
California Tea Party groups will be working hard to remind our fellow citizens of the dangers of bond addiction the next time a state-level measure is proposed.