Saturday, August 17, 2013

Your California high-speed choo-choo update

The breathless lede to this linked article from the Associated Press regarding a suit filed by Central Valley landowners back in 2011 may certainly turn out to be a big fat nothing-burger if the past conduct of the state’s political power broker establishment is any indication. However, for whatever it’s worth…

No money? No problem:

A Sacramento County judge dealt a major blow to California’s high-speed rail project Friday, ruling the agency overseeing the bullet train failed to comply with the financial and environmental promises made to voters when they approved initial funding for the project five years ago.

Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny said the California High-Speed Rail Authority “abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of the law” and has failed to identify “sources of funds that were more than merely theoretically possible.”

However, he declined to halt funding for the project, saying it wasn’t clear he had the discretion to do so and he’ll hold another hearing to determine what happens next. A date hasn’t been set.

The 2008 initiative, Proposition 1A, required the rail authority to specify where the funding would come from for the first operable segment of high-speed rail and have all the environmental clearances in place. Kenny said the agency did not comply with either of those mandates, but Proposition 1A appears to leave it up to lawmakers to decide whether the funding plan is sufficient to warrant funding.

The office of Gov. Jerry Brown, who has championed the project, directed inquiries to the rail authority. Dan Richard, the Brown-appointed chairman of the authority’s board, said work on the project will continue until the judge determines the remedy.

You just saw the nothing-burger, there, did you not? Judge said he will leave it up to the lawmakers to figure their way out of this legal and financial conundrum and rail honcho Richard says this is all back on the judge. In the meantime, nothing to see here, all ahead, full, because…

Central Valley landowners and the Kings County Board of Supervisors argued in their 2011 lawsuit that the $68 billion high-speed rail plan did not meet the promises made to voters when they approved selling $10 billion in bonds for it.

However, the lawsuit was filed in 2011, before the authority revised its business plan to scale back the cost and revise the planned routes, and high-speed rail officials believe many of the arguments made in court no longer apply to the project.

What is meant by “revised its business plan to scale back the cost” is to eliminate the funding of the infrastructure required to power the rail system and to eliminate the funding for the actual choo-choos. No lie, gang. This is how you get a project that was advertised as costing in the $33-40 billion range when high-speed rail was put on the ballot back in 2008 to the current $68 price tag when estimates for a fully functioning rail system has been put in the $100-120 billion range.

Of course lawsuits mean nothing when you just start making up stuff along the way.

It gets better, though. In order to qualify for $3.3 billion in federal stimulus money, the first 130 miles of track have to be built (between Madera and Fresno) before 2017, a construction pace whereby the consensus has been described as “unprecedented”. Of course, the state has said they will tap into that $3.3 billion before and/or during the construction of that initial stretch of steel in violation of the law.

Again, probably another nothing-burger as the Obama administration will claim extremis, executive privilege, gridlock, newly-found constitutional powers as they have done in the past to throw more money into this black hole.

It must be fun being a statist and having that ability to suspend disbelief and simply ignore budgetary math and the rule of law.

While people like Elon Musk are truly getting outside the box with privately-funded 21st century ideas like Hyperloop, we’re going to be spending in the neighborhood of $100 billion on 19th century technology.


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