It was 30 years ago that Jerry Brown, in his first incarnation as California governor, signed legislation to study the possibility of a high speed rail line for California.
Now, decades later, Jerry Brown signed legislation authorizing the expenditure of $8 billion dollars to begin construction. He referred to opponents of this white elephant as “NIMBY’s” (not in my backyard) and “fearful men.”
Despite the governor’s enthusiasm, high-speed rail has become increasingly unpopular around the state, and polls show a majority of voters now oppose the plan largely because of its record costs and uncertain prospects for completion. Brown, who was silent publicly when the Legislature debated his bullet train plan two weeks ago, now needs Californians back on board but said Wednesday he wasn’t concerned by the polls.
“You have to take the bull by the horns and start spending and investing in things that make sense,” Brown said Wednesday.
His choice of words for the project’s opponents showed the governor wasn’t concerned about winning over critics just yet.
One of those critics, Larry Klein, a Palo Alto councilman and chair of the city’s high-speed rail committee, was unfazed by Brown’s barbs.
“I’m not going to get into a name-calling contest with the governor. That doesn’t get us anywhere,” said Klein, who was not at the signing ceremony. “This doesn’t change anything. It’s still a boondoggle and a fiasco.”
The governor is campaigning for voters in November to approve Proposition 30, hikes on sales taxes and on the wealthy, to raise $8.5 billion and avoid drastic cuts to education and other state services. A recent Field Poll showed some 20 percent of likely “yes” voters on the taxes were less likely to support the measure if high-speed rail got approved.
“That doesn’t mean they’re going to all vote ‘no’, it’s just a negative drag on their early intentions to vote ‘yes,'” Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said Wednesday. “It puts those voters in a more vulnerable position — it puts them in play.”
Costs for the project — originally pegged at $35 billion — have ballooned to around $68 billion. The state hopes that the federal government will pick up most of the tab, but there are no guarantees of that happening. A panel set up to examine funding the boondoggle determined that the state should not issue bonds to fund the project and that moving ahead without credible sources of finance represented a risk to California taxpayers.
The Reason Foundation, along with several other taxpayer watchdog groups, conducted a study of the project and found that it will cost much more than the state is estimating, carry significantly fewer riders, be unable to meet the proposed speed and safety goals, and result in an inconsequential reduction in CO2 emissions.
But for Brown, it’s damn the taxpayers and full speed ahead. It is a real possibility that after exhausting state resources, California taxpayers will wake up one morning and realize they have a high speed rail system to no where, that doesn’t connect to anything, and has been a gigantic waste of money at a time when the state budget is bleeding red ink and essential services are being cut.
Is it any wonder California is losing business as companies move to states where the governor isn’t a space cadet?