Why Jerry Brown is standing firm on shaky California high-speed rail plan
Another report critical of California's $100-billion high-speed rail project – the second this month – has not shaken Gov. Jerry Brown's faith in the plan. He has his eyes on his legacy, some say.
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“The last thing the White House wants is to be undermined by a Democratic governor of California, so it doesn’t cost Brown anything to talk up high-speed rail,” says Mr. Schnur.Skip to next paragraph
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But Republicans are calling for a stop to the project, and opponents have been cleared to begin a signature-gathering drive aimed at putting an anti-rail initiative on the ballot.
“This is a train to nowhere, the Governor Moonbeam express,” says Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, invoking the pejorative nickname given to Brown in his first term by Chicago journalist Mike Royko, who thought Brown’s wild ideas were appealing only to a New Age crowd.
She says part of the reason Brown doesn’t want to back off now is because $3.5 billion that has already been designated by the Obama administration includes funding for a project in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s district.
She also questions the ridership and cost figures.
“They are playing lots of shenanigans, like counting one man who is a potential ticket taker for 20 years as 20 jobs,” says Ms. Harkey.
Some national observers are worried what the California episode might mean for high-speed rail elsewhere.
“There were enough objective critics of this program back when it was first proposed that predicted we would find ourselves in this spot today,” says Peter Zaleski, an economics professor at the Villanova School of Business in Philadelphia, who follows transportation issues. “Opponents will use the current report as evidence to support the case that we never should have moved forward on this project. I fear that proponents will view this as just another hurdle and rationalize the need to push forward.”
The questions may all be moot if funding can’t be found.
“Fiscal problems are putting many spending ideas on hold in Washington and state capitals, and California high-speed rail may well join other programs on the shelf due to lack of financing,” says Steven Schier, political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. “The plain fact is that high-speed rail is so expensive that it is necessary for a state to be in sound fiscal shape in order to fund it. California unfortunately is not in such shape now and won’t be anytime soon.”
“Californians have a tradition of committing funds first and thinking about who will pay later,” says Ken Button, a transportation specialist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
It may come down to a combination of what the California economy does in the next few months and Jerry Brown’s skills as a politician.
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