Will the State Senate Destroy California’s Future Today?
Today is the day that the State Senate is slated to make its crucial vote on whether to release the bond funding voters approved nearly four years ago and allow construction to begin on the high speed rail project. At stake are thousands of desperately needed construction jobs, millions of tons in annual carbon emission reductions, a long-term economic boost to cities large and small along the proposed route from new businesses and from economic activity released by diverting spending away from oil, and California’s ability to move people around the state without adding to the already considerable pollution problem.
This vote is directly comparable to the 1930 vote to build the Golden Gate Bridge, the 1959 vote to build the State Water Project, the 1960 vote to adopt the Higher Education Master Plan, and other similar votes where the state legislature showed leadership in solving a problem and creating conditions for lasting economic growth. Will California’s State Senators agree to help address problems and lead the state into the future? Or will they join the Tea Party in rejecting sustainable infrastructure and destroy jobs in the name of false economy?
The answer may lie in how the Senators read polls. A Field Poll released on Thursday suggested that the HSR project might hurt Governor Jerry Brown’s November tax measure:
In its current survey The Field Poll finds voter views of the project have soured considerably since its passage. At present, 56% of likely voters say they would oppose the rail project if it were up for another public vote, while just 39% are supportive.
The unpopularity of the multi-billion dollar project appears to be negatively affecting chances of voters endorsing the Governor’s tax increase proposal should the legislature authorize funds to the project. Nearly one in three likely voters, including one in five voters who currently support the Governor’s initiative, say they’d be less inclined to vote Yes if the legislature begins funding the rail project.
With a relentless drumbeat of negative articles about the project – many of them flawed – it’s no surprise that these polling numbers are turning up. The shockingly biased reporting from Ralph Vartabedian of the LA Times is just the best example of how some reporters are openly hostile to the project, with most others casually repeating their inherent bias for austerity and against government spending. It’s very difficult to find fair coverage of the article in most media outlets, with a few exceptions (such as Tim Sheehan at the Fresno Bee, David Siders at the Sacramento Bee, Michael Cabanatuan at the San Francisco Chronicle, and Juliet Williams at the AP).
Unsurprisingly, some media pundits are using the poll to suggest Governor Brown is wrong to push the project, with George Skelton at the LA Times writing that “Brown may be shooting himself in the foot by squeezing the trigger on bullet borrowing.”
If the poll were so damning, you would expect to see HSR supporters in the legislature running away from the project in order to save the all-important November tax measure, right?
But that’s not what’s happening. Yesterday the Assembly voted 51-27 to release the bond funds. They all saw the Field Poll. Many read Skelton’s article. Those Democrats are very strongly interested in passing the governor’s tax proposal this November. Led by Speaker John A. Pérez, they want to avoid crippling cuts to education and health care and would not undermine the tax proposal’s chances of passage.
Nor has Governor Brown suddenly turned away from the high speed rail project, even though he is staking his term in office on the passage of the November tax proposal.
What gives? Are these people so blinded by their love of bullet trains that they’ve given up on the tax measure?
Of course not. Some perspective and common sense is required here.
First, the Field Poll indicated only about 20% of those who would vote yes on the tax measure would flip to no because of the high speed rail project. In a close election that number could prove decisive. But there are reasons to believe that won’t happen.
The campaign to pass the tax measure will not turn on high speed rail. It will instead be dominated by the Yes campaign’s efforts to convince voters that schools and health care services are under fire and this is the only way to save them. The No campaign will run with a traditional “don’t let Sacramento politicians raise your taxes” message.
Second, most Sacramento Democrats understand that high speed rail means jobs – lots and lots of jobs, at a time when the state desperately needs them. They reject the Tea Party argument that government spending is somehow bad for the economy or the budget, and instead recognize that the $3 billion in federal stimulus would create jobs and economic activity that in turn creates tax revenue. It’s an example of responsible government spending.
There are many State Senators who understand the merits of the high speed rail project too. State Senator Ted Lieu, who has been one of the strongest voices in support of Governor Brown’s tax measure, confirmed on Twitter tonight that he will be voting to approve the high speed rail funds today. He will be joined by many other State Senators who both share his desire to pass the tax measure this November as well as lead California into a sustainable future, creating jobs and reducing carbon emissions with high speed rail.
Others still need our help. Here’s Senator Noreen Evans quoted in the Sac Bee:
Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, said she remains undecided about the project, citing concern that the proposal doesn’t do anything to help her North Coast constituents.
It will create thousands of jobs across the state and help reduce global warming. Those are both desperately needed. Does she oppose every bill that doesn’t directly help her district?
Evans’ office phone number is (916) 651-4002. Call her and remind her that significant job growth anywhere the state is a boon to everyone in the state. Tell her that the North Coast cares about reducing carbon emissions and reducing our dependence on oil. Ask her, nicely, whether she opposes all state spending that occurs outside her district.
Senator Rod Wright is listed in the article as leaning yes. Give him a call at (916) 651-4025 and ask him to join Ted Lieu, who represents a neighboring district, and vote yes on a project that can create jobs for his constituents.
Senator Lou Correa of Orange County is a key swing vote. Give him a call at (916) 651-4034. Ask him to vote yes to bring jobs to his district improving the Amtrak corridor between LA and San Diego, and remind him that as oil prices soar, visitors to the Anaheim resorts will need other ways to get to central Orange County.
In fact, if you live in a State Senate district represented by a Democrat, give them a call today and ask them to vote yes for jobs, for clean energy, for improving transportation, and for rejecting Mitt Romney and the Tea Party in favor of President Obama’s vision for America’s future. Full talking points are below. Let’s win this thing.
Jobs: California is still suffering from high unemployment. The high speed rail project will create thousands of jobs in the next few years across the state, good jobs that California families need to help the economy recover. Please do not kill these jobs – please release the high speed rail funds voters already approved.
The project is sound: Do not believe the anti-rail people – instead believe the facts. High speed rail systems all over the world cover their costs, including the Acela in the US Northeast. The independent peer review study of the California high speed rail project showed it would cover its operating costs through ridership. Californians want to ride this train, and the demand is there. Please do not kill this project – please release the high speed rail funds voters already approved.
The Central Valley is a good place to start: The idea that the Central Valley segment is a “train to nowhere” is a lie. Nobody plans to build track just in the Valley and nobody plans to run trains just in that area alone. It’s the starting point of a statewide system, just like the first segments of the interstate freeway system. The current HSR plan includes funding for rail projects in the Bay Area and Southern California, which is going to be helpful. But you can’t build HSR between SF and LA without going through the Valley. It’s the missing link and the best place to begin. Plus, the Obama Administration has said they will take away our stimulus money if Senators do not release the voter-approved project.
HSR is necessary for the environment: High speed rail is a key piece of California’s environmental efforts. The California Air Resources Board declared it essential to meeting the AB 32 carbon reduction goals. Motor vehicles are responsible for 57% of the pollution in the Central Valley and a key cause of asthma in Valley children. If the legislature kills high speed rail now, it would saying that California is not serious about addressing climate change or improving public health.
HSR is good for the state budget: The argument that infrastructure stimulus is bad for the budget is a right-wing talking point that President Obama has rejected. HSR funds will create desperately needed jobs that in turn contribute new tax revenues to the state. Further, the interest payments will come from truck fees, not from schools or health care. Legislators voted for bond funding to build bridges and dams in the depths of the Great Depression and it did not hurt schools or other public services. We should follow that proven path.