Politifact has started a California version, and this week they’ve been taking a look at some claims about the California high speed rail project made by both supporters and critics. Turns out that HSR backers are “mostly true” and opponents are “mostly false.”
Let’s first take a look at a claim about cost savings made at an October 29 press conference by California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales, responding to the ridiculous Ralph Vartabedian article claiming that cost overruns were a sure thing:
The actual (construction) contracts that we’ve awarded to date have come in several hundred million dollars below estimates.
Politifact California did a very detailed examination of that claim and found it was…Mostly True:
After digging out the original documents, the winning bids are a combined $480 million below the authority’s cost estimates. That works out to “several hundred” million.
Still, the lower bids do nothing to wipe away the overall project’s financial uncertainty, several experts said. Its funding gap remains in the tens of billions of dollars.
The implication behind Morales’ statement about the bids is that the authority is either controlling its costs or could potentially save money. Officials probably wouldn’t talk about the bids otherwise. Even the authority’s chairman said there’s no way to safeguard against all possible higher expenses.
The phrase “to date” in the CEO’s carefully worded comment may be the most critical going forward. Every independent expert we spoke with suggested future cost overruns are likely for the project.
Even so, our fact checks evaluate the here and now, and not predictions.
We rate the claim Mostly True.
Well said. Morales didn’t say there would never be a cost overrun in the future. But what he did say is even more important: that if you look at the actual evidence, rather than speculation, that evidence shows that the CHSRA’s cost control measures have succeeded in saving taxpayers nearly half a billion dollars.
There’s no way to prove what will happen in the future and certainly no way to rate it on a fact check meter. But going on that evidence, it is reasonable to predict that the HSR project will continue to come it at or under budget. One could also find evidence from other projects around the world of rising costs and use that to predict HSR will see it too. We all know that the cost estimates have risen for HSR by 100%. So far, however, the costs are coming in below the current estimates. That’s a good sign for HSR and needs to be shouted from the rooftops.
Politifact California also took a look at another HSR claim, this one from project opponents:
“We now know these firms are unwilling to put up any private money,” for California’s high-speed rail project. -Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, in the November 3, 2015 edition of the LA Times
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this claim was rated Mostly False:
Assemblyman Jim Patterson said this month: “We now know these firms are unwilling to put up any private money.” He was referring to the more than 30 companies that submitted financial advice to the rail authority, without offering any funding.
Many of those companies identified financial concerns, including the need to reduce the size of the project’s contracts and guarantee revenue. But Patterson does not mention that the rail authority’s request was for advice, not money. And we simply don’t “know” how willing those companies will be once a formal funding request is made.
Some of the firms that responded, along with rail authority leaders and the head of the project’s independent oversight panel, all said it’s too early to conclude the private sector has given up on the project. Patterson’s statement implies they already have.
We rate the claim Mostly False.
That’s the obvious conclusion and anything else would have not been realistic. Patterson is wishing and hoping that the private sector won’t ever be interested in funding HSR. Some companies never will. Some are waiting for the right conditions, like a revenue guarantee. And some are just waiting for the project to get further along.
But for Patterson or any other HSR opponent to say that the private sector won’t back this is just wrong, and I’m glad Politifact California called him out on it.
I’m also glad that Politifact California exists and is doing this with statements about HSR. I’ve been doing this for nearly 8 years now and it’s nice to finally have some company!