Feds to California: Spend That Money You Don't Have on High-Speed Rail


The L.A. Times reports that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Sacramento today to convince California leaders to include funding for the $68 billion high-speed rail plan in the upcoming budget:

"What I have said to them is, 'We need a strong signal that you are committed to the money for the match, sooner rather than later. We can't wait until the end of summer,'" LaHood recounted at a news  conference following his meeting with state Senate leaders.

LaHood said he was "reassured" by Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) "that they are committed to high-speed rail and they are committed to making sure that California is able to provide the match that is needed."

When last we left California's budget, Jerry Brown was admitting he needed to make significant cuts to it, the state's budget deficit was $9.2 billion, and this year has already seen a $3.1 billion shortfall in projected revenue.

As for the train project, experts worried that the rail authority had vastly underestimated the operational costs for the project, necessitating annual subsidies should the thing ever actually get built. The CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) quit in January. Polls say voters would like a revote on the $9 billion in bonds that authorized the train construction in 2008, and if such a vote were to happen, the authorization would be reversed. According to a Reason-Rupe poll, 55 percent of Americans prefer private enterprise build and operate high-speed rail, not the government

And this demand from the federal government comes after promising a measly $3.3 billion in matching funds. (Not that we're actually endorsing throwing federal money at this too, but that's not a lot of weight to be throwing around relative to the total cost of the project.)

Fortunately some Democrats are starting to see a little sense – or at least discretion – about throwing money at the project:

The meeting was also attended by Sens. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) who have balked at quick action to approve the state's $2.7-billion share of the first $6 billion construction segment in the Central Valley.

Simitian, who chairs a budget subcommittee on rail,  said after the meeting that he remains convinced the Legislature should continue to hold holding hearings and conduct more study toward a decision on funding in August. The budget will include operating funds for the rail authority, but he said it is "unlikely" he would support approving $2.7 billion in bond funding for the construction in the budget scheduled for action by June 15.

"That's not the kind of thing you ought to do on a hurry-up basis," Simitian said. "I continue to believe that this is a decision that requires thoughtful deliberation."

The above quote is probably code for "I need to determine whether I will get my ass kicked black-and-blue by the voters over this."

LaHood continued: "I wanted to be sure that I personally deliver the message that President Obama's administration is committed to high-speed rail in California. We have made a commitment of over $3 billion. We want to make sure that our partners here realize what is at stake."

Again, trying to throw that $3 billion around is hysterical. That is all of 4.5 percent of the projected train cost, assuming the costs are even accurate after the CHSRA cut it down from $100 billion.

Oh well, maybe we're all just wimps for not supporting this mess.