Oh, California high-speed choo-choos, we just can’t quit you as we are hopelessly addicted to wasteful and completely counterproductive public works projects. You keep this up and you just might supplant 2009’s $780 billion American Recovery Act aka Porkulus as #1 in our hearts.
The level of corruption, deception, mendacity and willful suspension of disbelief contained herein makes this probably a done deal.
No new breaking news with respect to California’s high-speed rail project but sometimes it’s good to see where things stand, particularly in light of some legal setbacks suffered the project at the hands of Sacramento Superior Court Judge, Michael Kenny earlier this past year.
From the Sacramento Bee:
Officials overseeing California's $68 billion high-speed rail project have taken pains in recent weeks to assure the public that construction plans are moving ahead, characterizing a series of recent setbacks as "a bump in the road."
That optimism comes despite recent court rulings against the project, creating confusion about the bullet train's prospects.
A Sacramento County judge rescinded the rail authority's funding plan, forced it to show how it will pay for the first 300 miles of construction and rejected a request from the authority that would allow the state treasurer to sell $8.6 billion in bonds.
But members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board seemed undaunted during their December meeting. They praised staff for filling key positions at the agency and pointed to a nearly $1 billion construction contract signed in 2013 as evidence of progress.
It is duly noted that this contract award was to Tutor Perini-Zachry-Parsons, a politically-connected firm where the rail project’s very own acquisition rules were summarily thrown out the window to make way for TPZP.
But let’s talk about funding, shall we?:
Republicans in Congress have vowed to block any further funding for the rail line and will hold a railroad subcommittee hearing in January to investigate the state's spending of $3.3 billion in federal funds that are supposed to be matched by the state.
Rail authority board Chairman Dan Richard has said California has an agreement with federal officials allowing it to spend the federal money first while the state bond money is in limbo. Richard said officials hope to have shovels in the ground in the Central Valley in January or February and projected that the federal money might last through "late spring."
This “agreement” with the feds is in direct violation of the 2008 ballot initiative language that paved the way for the project and which is the subject of another lawsuit. One can see the trickle-down effect of the “We Can’t Wait” mentality affected by the current administration which is strongly supporting the choo-choos when the rule of law is concerned.
Judge Kenny’s rulings did not stop the project from moving forward, so where do things go from here?:
Rail officials appear poised to deliver a new funding plan to their own high-speed rail board for approval, while the plaintiffs who sued believe the plan needs to go before the state Legislature, which approved a 2012 funding bill that squeaked through the Senate with only one vote to spare.
"I think there was a lot of assumptions by my colleagues when we voted that there was a pretty good chance of getting more federal funds and a pretty good chance of getting private funds, neither of which has materialized," said Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, who voted against the 2012 legislation.
This logic baffles us. From where exactly did he think that private funding was going to materialize when there was and is nowhere near the demand to project any sufficient amount of funding?
But the project has many, many powerful friends including the Governor who is banking on choo-choos to be his grandest legacy as our former Seminary dropout rides off into the sunset.
Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, remains a strong supporter of high-speed rail and has appointed top advisers to the board, including Richard. Democrats also control both houses of the state Legislature and many of them are supportive.
If a new vote is needed, some might be wary of funneling money to a massive project that appears on the ropes, especially in an election year.
"The climate has changed in the last year. You might see people in the Legislature saying, 'We should cut our losses and just move on,'" said Brady, the attorney representing Kings County plaintiffs.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a Bakersfield Republican who has sought to block federal funding for the project, said now is a good time for Brown to reflect on his high-speed rail dream and back out. He said it's becoming clear that "it will not fulfill the promises made to voters."
This. Will. Not. Happen.
More legal wrangling is in the offing this year and we will continue to keep you posted with respect to any and all goings of our beloved California high-speed choo-choos.