By Joe Guzzardi
July 25, 2012
Despite a $16.7 billion budget deficit and four major municipal bankruptcies—Vallejo, Mammoth Lakes, Stockton, and San Bernardino—California Governor Jerry Brown will barrel full speed ahead with his ill-conceived bullet train. How Brown can approve such an expensive project when California cities are cutting day-to-day services to stay above water boggles the mind.
To Brown, the pesky details of California’s financial crisis don’t matter. Earlier this month Brown signed SB 1029 authorizing the state to sell $2.6 billion in construction bonds for the initial 130-mile Central Valley line from Madera to Bakersfield. Brown’s signature allows the state to access $3.2 billion in federal funds earmarked for the project. The latest of various, widely ranging cost estimates is $69 billion, a sum that assuming the bullet train is ever completed, will probably be half the final amount. Already, $69 million is 51 percent higher than the 2008 $45 billion calculation but less than a truer, earlier projection of $98 billion that was slashed after public outrage.
The rail is numbingly absurd. Despite a $55 billion shortfall with no funding source in sight, construction will begin later this year with the hope of laying 300 miles of track over the next 10 years. A decade (3,650 days) to lay 300 miles averages 500 feet a day. A northern link connecting to San Francisco wouldn’t be finished until 2028. For comparison sake, in 1931 New York’s 102-story Empire State Building was finished within 13 months.
While financial gurus object to the voodoo economics, environmentalists have also weighed in with their protests. Even if the money magically surfaces, environmental disasters might scotch the rail once and for all.
The massive construction project would befoul the valley’s already toxic air quality, aquatic life and, predict federal biologists, put eleven endangered species at risk.
Because the rail authority selected the eastern Central Valley rather than the drier western side, construction will devastate about 100 bodies of water under Army Corp of Engineers jurisdiction. A senior project manager anticipates “unavoidable impacts.”
Over the next few weeks, federal agencies will issue recommendations that will add to the already exorbitant cost and delay construction. Finally, the all-powerful California agriculture industry has threatened to file environmental law suits.
According to recent polling, 59 percent of Californians oppose the bullet train and, if given another chance to vote for it, would halt public borrowing. Nearly 70 percent said that if the train runs, they’d “never or hardly ever” use it.
California’s leadership failure can be gauged by methods other than charting its cities’ bankruptcies and idiotic fiascos-to-be. Forbes Magazine noted that since 1990, California’s government jobs have increased 20 percent from roughly 2.0 million to nearly 2.4 million today. Over the same period, manufacturing jobs declined from roughly 1.9 million to 1.2 million, a 37 percent decline. From 1990 to 2012 the ratio of government employees to factory employees in California has doubled from 1:1 to 2:1.
Little wonder that CNBC’s recent annual report of the 50 states’ business climates, California ranked 40thoverall but also ranked even lower in friendliness to businesses (43rd), cost of living (46th) and close to the bottom (48th) in the cost of doing business. Businesses and professionals are abandoning California in droves. Is anyone in Sacramento paying attention?
During Brown’s first two gubernatorial terms from 1975-1983, his policies almost killed California. In his second governorship, Brown is determined to finish the job. Nothing, not even a staggering multi-billion dollar deficit, stops California’s wacky legislative spend, spend, spend agenda.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. His columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at [email protected]