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Bust a Cap on the Bullet Train

Source: Unknown photographer from the Tennessean
Source: Unknown photographer from the Tennessean
Governor Brown claims balanced budgets, pension reforms, and a fiscal house now fully in order following the release of his latest budget. Of course, that wall of debt is going nowhere, and Brown acknowledged that in addition to a rainy day fund, he will devote some of the state's new revenues to paying down the pension liabilities, which have not really been reformed at all.

There's also talk of expanded spending into public education, and taking funds from the Cap and Trade program to finance the billion dollar bullet train boondoggle. Critics have rebuffed the Governor for tapping one revenue source dedicated to fighting greenhouse gases, but the consensus among even liberal lawmakers, such as Fran Pavley (at least during her 2012 campaign for office), have argued that the project should be shelved until a later date, after the state's economy improves (if it ever does).

Central valley farmers have actively resisted the high speed rail project, which will force them off their land, all in the name of eminent domain and possible revenue source  based on tourism and business travel. Conservative groups have certainly blasted the bullet train, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which compared the profligate project to "the walking dead".

In addition to the grassroots resistance to the train, the courts have weighed in. In late November 2013, Sacramento Judge Michael Kenny effectively and indefinitely blocked the bullet train project, citing that the first stretch of rail did not meet the environmental and financial standards outlined in the 2008 voter-approved initiative. State leaders must redesigned the funding sources, and they cannot rely on bond measures to do so.

Once in a while, state courts issue wise rulings, especially in the face of cost overruns threatening to run the state of California aground.

At this junction, or rather juncture, I have to ask: why did California voters approve this outrageously ridiculous and costly project in the first place? The law passed by a 52% margin, relying mostly on coastal constituencies for support, even though the train would bulldoze through homes and farms in the Central Valley. Is anyone surprised to see rural and agricultural interests raising their ire against Sacramento micromanaging, or the rising secession movement within the state? Governor Schwarzenegger shoulders part of the blame, too, along with the liberal majorities in the state legislature for pushing this project onto the voters. Much like Brown's Prop 30 tax increases on small businesses and the dwindling minority of wealthy people in the state, Sacramento politicians allow interest groups (building and trade unions) to seduce a (slim) majority of voters to approve tax increases, and then politicians can rest on the faulty assumption that they did not raise the taxes, but that Californians did.

Brown is not backing away from the bullet train, though, and as referenced before he has discussed taking funds from the Cap and Trade program to finance the first portions of the train's rail. His argument? Since the train will run on electricity as opposed to fossil fuels, the project is contributing to green energy and less pollution. Environmentalists are panning Brown's proposal, inadvertently exposing a growing fissure within the Democratic Party nationally as well as locally. Unions want big, public projects to strengthen their ranks an increase their funding (like XL Keystone). The green lobby wants to protect the green with the public's green, and any remaining reform-minded and responsible Democrats want the project stopped (if any such Democrats still exist in Sacramento or elsewhere in California). And there are those Democrats who recognize the dangers of undisciplined public sector unions insisting on exorbitant pensions, benefits, ands salaries, even if local or statewide agencies cannot pay for them. But they remain quiet, and far from Sacramento.

But those are different train wrecks altogether.

While "Republican" Governor Schwarzenegger was the mastermind (or anything but) behind the Cap and Trade scam and a cheerleader for the bullet train scheme, Governor Brown wants to further this wasteful project, despite rising opposition to the project, along with the mounting legal costs and moral concerns about spending more money on a low-priority project. Brown wants to increase public school funding. Why not disband this bullet train project, and allow the massive saving to fund our schools? The teachers' unions would like that proposal, wouldn't they?

Sadly, California's byzantine budget laws, combined with a protracted, Democrat-dominated legislature dedicated to spending more than the state takes in, and a Governor who feigns conservative fiscal prudence, have only entrenched this billion dollar boondoggle. It's time to bust a cap not just on this wasteful high spend train, which is going nowhere fast, but also on green lobby micromanaging like Cap and Trade, and even the union wranglings from the prison guards and other public (and even private) associations protecting collective bargaining emoluments against the fiscal health (and sanity) of the state of California. 

There are enough train wrecks for California leaders to focus on. Governor Brown has no right to add one more to the mess.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mark Paxson January 14, 2014 at 12:24 AM
Here's the fundamental problem with your post, Arthur, you get so many facts wrong, it's impossible to argue the merits. Let's just start with the first paragraph. Governor Brown inherited a budget with an annual structurel deficit approaching $20 billion. In three years, he turned that around into a budget with a small surplus of several billion dollars this year, and a projected surplus of a few more billion dollars next year. With the turn around in the state' finances, he has paid down the "wall of debt", if his budget proposal is adopted by the Legislature, something like $15 billion in just this year and the next budget year alone will have gone towards that wall. And his plans call for the entire wall (as he defines it) being paid off within the next several years. Meanwhile, contrary to your assertion, his budget doesn't actually include anything related to funding the state pension liabilities. Yet, you claim he does nothing to deal with the wall of debt, while helping to fund pension liabilities. If you can't even lead with correct facts, why bother reading the rest. But, I did, and for the most part the rest of your post is equally factually suspect. By the way, if the Governor were to cancel the High Speed Rail Project, the "savings" couldn't be transferred to education. State funding for the project comes from a bond measure passed by the voters -- funds that would result from bonds issued by the State, the proceeds of which could only be used for the purposes approved by the voters. High Speed Rail. They can't be switched to education. That would require a new and separate measure approved by the voters for that specific purpose. So, you end with faulty "facts" and end with faulty conclusions.
Arthur Christopher Schaper January 14, 2014 at 08:36 PM
This whole project is faulty, from beginning to end. You want to critique a misspelled word, yet this project is nothing but mistakes and misspent funds. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Mark, you keep on fomenting this lie of "balanced budgets", when the fact remains that the whole mess stands on a house of cards and empty projects of "should pay down" in several years. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Since when has anyone followed through on "will pay down later"? ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Any funding for anything should be paid for in advanced. I cannot believe that you would sit back and permit this massive waste of money to continue. You strain over a gnat and swallow a camel.
Mark Paxson January 14, 2014 at 08:48 PM
Let me know where I criticized you for a misspelled word. Let me also know where I suggested we had a balanced budget. There certainly are unfunded liabilities on the books. Only problem is that your description of the proposed budget and those liabilities is the exact opposite of reality. As for whether anybody has followed through on promises -- so far, the current Governor has done a pretty good job of follow through on his promises. As for High Speed Rail, you'll notice I didn't express an opinion about the project -- you apparently want to put words in my mouth. I will say this, your way of thinking would mean that we would not have the interstate freeway system, we wouldn't have any infrastructure at all as it is simply impossible in the context of our budget and tax system to pay for those type of projects "in advance.". So, apparently, you would prefer that these types of projects that are necessary for our economy to thrive simply don't happen. You demonstrate not just an inability to get the basic facts right, but also a lack of awareness of how projects like this have to be funded. Or are you proposing to increase everybody's taxes sufficiently to pay for these projects "in advance."
Arthur Christopher Schaper January 14, 2014 at 08:52 PM
Why do you not express opinion about the project? You think the project should be funded? ----------------------------------------------------------------------- And you assume that bullet train boondoggle will help the state economy?
Arthur Christopher Schaper January 14, 2014 at 08:53 PM
"With the turn around in the state' finances, he has paid down the "wall of debt", if his budget proposal is adopted by the Legislature, something like $15 billion in just this year and the next budget year alone will have gone towards that wall." ----------------------------------------------------------------- He has not paid it down because the legislature has not approved the budget. How can you write that Brown has done something when he has not? Either he did or he did not.

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