WSJ: Obama’s HSR Plan “Foundering”
One of the problems with political reporting in America today is the assumption that certain things are permanent when in fact they are transitory. A lot can happen in two years. In 2009 the stimulus had gotten through and Congress, controlled by Democrats, was poised to pass a major health insurance overhaul. Here in 2011 the House is controlled by one of the most radical, extreme group of politicians the USA has ever seen. Polls show Democrats may retake the House in 2012, perhaps bringing a quick and merciful end to the teabagger junta currently ruling the House.
If that were to happen, many of the political imperatives being driven by House Republicans today would likely vanish. That includes their war on passenger rail. An article in the Wall Street Journal provides a pretty good discussion of the problem:
The Obama administration’s push for high-speed trains is foundering, as Congress moves to clamp down on funding and a showcase California project encounters new hurdles.
California is set to update its plans for a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles high-speed line by Nov. 1. Officials say the state is looking at shortening the initial route and relying more heavily on existing lines….
The California troubles reflect the difficulty of shifting a country that mainly relies on the automobile and airplane. The federal government and states have for decades built and maintained roads using a dedicated revenue stream, the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. There is no such source of cash for high-speed rail, putting rail proponents at the mercy of political winds.
That’s essentially correct. We spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the Interstates, funded by a gas tax approved in 1956 when America still believed in building for the future. House Republicans supported that at the time. Today, however, they refuse to support any new investments in our transportation needs, especially if doing so undermines the oil companies who are now bankrolling the Republican Party.
The federal funding issues are serious. But just two years ago we were looking at $8 billion in the stimulus and proposals from House Democrats for up to $50 billion in HSR funding in the new transportation bill. Last year the Tea Party was riding high, dominating the national conversation and ultimately the 2010 elections. Now Occupy Wall Street has dramatically shifted the national conversation back toward the left, and as Americans turn against the Tea Party movement Democrats and President Obama have a new opening to push not only more stimulus, but high speed rail funding.
HSR has other issues to face, as we know. NIMBYs and opponents are now well-organized in both the Peninsula and the Central Valley. But more funding can help lubricate solutions to those problems. Mitigation matters. So too does the prospect of actual funding to connect the Valley section to the Bay Area and Southern California, which could create the necessary political momentum to overcome the NIMBYs and the opponents.
HSR advocacy, like HSR construction itself, is a long-term project. That’s especially true at a time when American politics is so unsettled. Things change fast these days, and those who persist in pushing their goals and who sustain their organizing are those who will eventually prevail.