Seven years ago, during his first run for governor, Gavin Newsom told me he strongly supports high speed rail. He backed Proposition 1A in 2008 and said at the time that he supported continued funding.
Two and a half years ago, shortly into his second run for governor, Gavin Newsom changed his position and said the HSR funding should go to other projects.
Today, Gavin Newsom returned to his original view. In a talk at the Sacramento Press Club, Newsom said he supports public funding for HSR:
If elected governor, Gavin Newsom would commit himself to finding public funding for high-speed rail in order to see the imperiled project to completion, the gubernatorial candidate said Wednesday.
But the 49-year-old lieutenant governor also acknowledged that he was concerned about overall funding for the bullet train, and he stopped short of saying where exactly additional public dollars could come from.
“I want to make this work,” Newsom told an audience of about 75 at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon on Wednesday. “I don’t want to see it derailed.”
This is good news and a welcome return to the forward-thinking, infrastructure-minded guy I saw running for governor in 2009. Newsom’s shift to a more conservative mindset in 2014 was really annoying and caused many to question his commitment to green energy and mass transportation solutions. Now that the 2018 governor’s race is about to heat up, Newsom is rightly tacking back to his earlier view and backing HSR.
But he’s still wobbly and in some cases wrong on some key details. Juliet Williams of AP was also there and wrote about Newsom’s remarks:
“I want to be honest about the concerns, and transparent about how this project’s changed, and be honest about the fact that it’s unlikely to generate a big surplus,” Newsom said. “There’s only one rail system in the world that actually generates a profit. I’m not opposed to the vision.”
Um, no, Gavin. Pretty much every HSR system in the world generates a profit. Not all of them cover their construction costs, but there shouldn’t be an expectation that they do.
He went on:
On Wednesday, Newsom noted that when voters approved the project, about a third of the funding was to come from the state bonds, about a third from the federal government and about a third from private financing.
Newsom is aware that in 2010 Republicans seized control of the U.S. House and closed off any new federal HSR funding as long as they held the majority, right? If he’s blaming the governor or the legislature or the CHSRA for this situation, he’s just flat wrong.
“I want to give the governor the benefit of the doubt,” on leveraging more money from that program, Newsom said Wednesday. “If he is successful to invite and secure the private-sector money, that’s a game-changer. And if we can do that, then this thing starts to pencil out. Without that, then I remain concerned about financing.”
This is circular logic. Private sector money only shows up when there’s a more certain public sector funding stream. Cap-and-trade can provide that. So Gavin, where are you on that?
Still, this is a better place for him to be than he was in 2014. And it’s my hope that all the Democratic candidates for governor (and maybe the Republican, if Ashley Swearengin runs, even though Republicans have no hope of being elected governor) strongly support HSR funding in the 2018 election, so that it’s not a campaign issue and instead becomes a de facto position that our state’s next governor is sure to uphold.