Jerry Brown's Waterloo Station? California high-speed rail takes a new hit.
A congressional committee says it will investigate federal funding for California's embattled high-speed rail project. California Gov. Jerry Brown's continued support is making him an increasingly lonely voice.
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Now Congressman Issa is ramping up scrutiny of the federal government’s role.Skip to next paragraph
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"California high-speed rail was sold to voters as a grand vision for tomorrow but in practice appears to be no different than countless other pork-barrel projects – driven more by political interests and consultant spending than valid cost-benefit analysis," he said in a statement. "Before more taxpayer money is sent to the rail authority, questions must be answered about mismanagement, conflicts of interest, route selection, ridership and other risks."
Some political analysts dismiss the significance of the probe. “I don't suspect that this investigation and potentially hearings would be taken particularly seriously,” says Corey Cook, associate professor of public affairs at the University of San Francisco.
But the investigation does add another potential hurdle for a project already facing many.
“In a state as fiscally depleted as California, it is a very steep and long march uphill,” says Michael Shires, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University. “The project must have federal support to happen. If the investigation and continued attention lead to the Obama administration and Congress withdrawing their support, the project will likely die.”
Brown has so far been one of the plan’s most vocal supporters. That could leave him exposed.
“The national government has shown little fiscal capacity or political will to pursue such projects, making Brown's advocacy a relatively lonely voice,” says Professor Schier of Carleton College. “A lonely voice seldom prevails in politics.”
“The rail project will make it tougher for him to gain public support for a tax increase that’s on the ballot this fall. [Brown] says that the tax hike is necessary to prevent cuts in education,” Professor Pitney says. “But with the bullet train, he sounds like a father who lets his kids go hungry while he goes out and buys a Cadillac.
“He’s spending billions that we don’t have on a project that we don’t need,” he adds. “Like Captain Ahab, Brown is pursuing a senseless goal that will end up dragging him down.”
“The governor … doesn't have that much to lose from a political standpoint,” says David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University, via e-mail. “The governor flourishes under adverse circumstances, and high-speed rail allows Brown the opportunity to build on a tarnished legacy.”
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