The photo on Page B6 in Thursday's Times caught my eye even before the headline ("Governor calls out rail detractors"). Jerry Brown can be seen staring into the camera, proudly waving legislation he'd just signed, as if to tell opponents of high speed rail to stick their opinions where the sun doesn't shine.
The expression on his face was equal parts defiance and celebration. He had just railroaded, pardon the expression, an $8 billion funding bill through the Legislature to pay for construction on the first phase of California's theoretical bullet train. (Yes, it's theoretical until it actually goes somewhere.)
I wondered why the governor looked so gratified. The only thing he'd accomplished was to pledge money the state doesn't have for a project it doesn't need. Administrations do that all the time
The first stretch of track, which is planned for the Central Valley not because it makes sense but because construction is simpler on flat terrain, has been dubbed the "train to nowhere." More accurately, it should be called the "train from nowhere (south of Merced) to nowhere (north of Bakersfield)." All aboard!
This investment answers no anticipated demand, because people don't travel to nowhere.
It promises no tangible product, because most of the funding for completion is unsecured.
It will neither prove nor disprove the financial viability of high-speed rail because it will pay only for the tracks. You need a
That brings us back to the picture on Page B6. People on either side of the governor are smiling and clapping enthusiastically. A man in a hard hat is whistling. That's a lot of fabricated exuberance for a project that has screamed incompetence.
Estimated costs have jumped around like a kite in the wind -- from $43 billion to $98 billion to $69 billion. When numbers change like this, there's no reason to trust any of them.
Completion dates have bent like a daisy in the wind. Originally, bullet trains were going to be up and running by 2020. Now officials say 2033. In another month, they may add 10 years to that. Each new announcement sounds like a guess.
Not even the scope of this boondoggle has remained the same. The route originally would link San Francisco to San Diego. Anyone booking that trip should allow time for a bus ride at the end, because the southern termination now is Anaheim.
Projected ticket cost has gone up. Projected ridership has gone down. Officials can't even guarantee the train will travel at the speed it once promised. And the notion that private interests will throw any money at this pipe dream is, let's say, amusing.
The governor knows all this but remains undeterred. He has a legacy to build.
Curiously, this profligate spending plan comes at a time when California voters soon will be asked -- begged, actually -- to back the governor's initiative for sales and income tax hikes. He says new revenues are imperative to meet the state's fundamental needs.
Otherwise, social services are at further risk, K-12 education will be slashed and college tuitions will rise. The Guv says voters need to dig deep if we are to maintain our quality of life.
Plus, he's going to need money to pay off those high-speed rail bonds.
Tell me again: What is this man celebrating?
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com