Time To Derail High-Speed Shakedown Of California Taxpayers

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

During these extremely difficult budget times, rooting out waste in the spending of your tax dollars must be a top priority.  There's no better way to get started than to end the boondoggle that is known as California's yet-to-be constructed high-speed rail system.

This system would connect San Francisco and Southern California.  While a nice luxury to have, it's not worth the effort just so we can say to our neighbors we are "greener" than them.  Despite being given $10 billion in bonds by the voters in 2008, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has little to show for it other than being a sugar daddy for high-priced bureaucrats and media consultants.  Not one inch of track has been laid.

Completing the project is now estimated to cost $43 billion, which would make it one of the nation's most expensive public works projects.  The final price tag could soar to $80 to $100 billion because of the state's poor credit rating and likely cost overruns.

The additional money that will be spent on high-speed rail can be better spent on real infrastructure needs that would benefit all Californians for generations.  For example, we can repair potholes on our streets, provide storage for our long term water supply needs, or expand existing highways. These investments would serve the millions and the generations - a much wiser investment than spending billions to build a train network that may serve only a few thousand commuters.

Yet for all the money that it has spent, the High-Speed Rail Authority can't even properly document some of its expenses.  In fact, in an audit conducted by the non-partisan State Auditor in April, it found millions spent with little or no accountability. 

For example, staff paid at least $4 million of invoices from contractors without having evidence that they had performed the invoiced work.  The Authority also developed a business plan that would spend $17 to $19 billion in federal funds, even though it has only secured about $2.9 billion from the federal stimulus program. 

Revelations like these are just the tip of the iceberg in the report appropriately titled, "High-Speed Rail Authority: It Risks Delays or an Incomplete System Because of Inadequate Planning, Weak Oversight, and Lax Contract Management."

As if to double-down on their questionable decision-making, the Authority's board recently voted to go ahead with building a "train to nowhere" that would connect the San Joaquin Valley prison town of Corcoran to the small community of Borden.  It will cost $4 billion to build and not even include actual locomotives or passenger cars!

All of this spending sounds eerily familiar to other public project boondoggles where taxpayers had to pay much more than the originally advertised price tag.  Take for example the construction of Los Angeles' Red Line, which ultimately cost taxpayers there $4.5 billion (instead of the projected $1.45 billion) because of cost overruns, mismanagement, political infighting and an economic recession.  It led voters to block further use of local sales tax revenue for subway construction.  Despite its completion, the subway has done little to wean L.A. residents from their cars.

Whatever its advantages, we cannot afford high speed rail when we are faced with addressing a $6 billion deficit in the current budget year, and a projected $26 billion dollar deficit in the next budget year.  Such a deficit threatens essential state priorities and could lead to higher taxes for families statewide.  Instead of building a fancy train, why not devote our resources to saving our schools and keeping dangerous criminals behind bars?  This is why I have co-authored Senate Bill 22 with Senator Doug LaMalfa, to send this issue back to the voters, and ask them to repeal the funding for this high speed rail to nowhere.

It's high time to end the high-speed boondoggle now before additional taxpayer dollars are wasted.  I hope the people and my legislative colleagues will take a second look at this project and decide that incurring more debt for such a dubious purpose is not the best use of our limited resources.