Congressional Republicans Launch New Attack on California HSR
Fresh of their drubbing at the recent elections, Congressional Republicans are seeking a measure of revenge against California by launching a new attack on California high speed rail. And California Republicans are leading the charge.
At issue is a House provision adopted in late June on a highly partisan vote triggered by the California Republican delegation. It would bar any new federal money from going to the Brown-backed California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican freshman and veteran of the California Legislature, was the sponsor. And [Rep. Kevin] McCarthy is using his leadership post to press for the language as part of whatever compromise is reached on transportation funding for the coming year.
Denham and McCarthy, two Republicans from the Central Valley, are trying to kill high speed rail in their own districts by forcing a federal ban on further funding to be part of any major “fiscal cliff” deal reached this month, or part of a transportation funding package, or both.
“I don’t think we are overstepping at all,” Denham said of the House’s intervention. “The state government is broke. My goal is to make sure this high-speed rail project does not move forward until we have it fully funded.”
Of course, Denham is wrong; California isn’t broke. California is almost out of the red and the Legislative Analyst’s Office projects multi-billion dollar surpluses could soon materialize. Far from being broke, California may be in a much better fiscal position than many other states.
McCarthy testified today in Congress:
As the LA Times put it:
“Just because we’ve invested money doesn’t mean we have to invest more,” McCarthy told the committee. “I have real doubt of the viability, the costs and if and when this will ever be built.”
McCarthy said the revised high-speed rail plan calls for $38 billion more in federal funding. But he said that estimates of the train’s ridership were overblown and that Congress may have to subsidize the operation of the train if and when it is ever built.
“Look, I know Hollywood happens to be in California, but this is not a Kevin Costner movie,” he said. “If we built it, I don’t know if they will come.”
Actually, Kevin, we know that they will come. Every other HSR line around the world, including the Amtrak Acela, has high levels of ridership. So too do California’s existing trains. Congress does not have to subsidize the Acela’s operation and there’s never been any discussion of them doing so for the California HSR project. And under Governor Jerry Brown’s leadership, the project costs have been significantly reduced. All of McCarthy’s claims lack merit.
Congressional Democrats pushed back strongly, as did Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood:
LaHood accused Denham of jinxing the process by adding language to the House transportation bill that prohibits the federal government from funding high speed rail in California.”
LaHood told Denham it’s not going to get fully funded “as long as there’s language in bills that says we can’t have any money.” Denham’s amendment was largely symbolic, since there wasn’t any high speed rail money in the House bill.
California’s Republican delegation isn’t the only obstacle to future funding for high speed rail: Congressional members from the Northeast — from both parties — want high speed dollars for a Boston-to-Washington route.
But Democratic D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton sounded willing to compromise, saying she’d like to see a pilot project running somewhere soon — even if it’s in California. She reminded fellow committee members that the federal government has a history of investing in transportation during financially trying times: it built railroads during the Civil War.
This battle is likely to continue, as California’s remaining Republicans continue to commit political suicide by waging war on 21st century California. But these games will likely continue as long as Republicans have the majority in the House. I still believe federal funding will materialize. Either way, the state ought to seriously consider going it alone.