No Silver Bullet for Bullet Train Funding

Feb 27th, 2013 | Posted by

Yesterday leaders from the California High Speed Rail Authority spoke to the State Senate about the project’s progress. Some of the things we learned:

Lawmakers also heard from state Auditor Elaine Howle, who last year criticized the authority’s processes for monitoring the performance and accountability of its contractors as lacking oversight and said the agency’s contractors and subcontractors “outnumber its employees by about 25 to one.”

Howle told the joint hearing of the Senate Transportation and Housing and the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review committees that the rail authority has fully implemented 17 of its 23 recommendations and made progress on the others. That includes hiring senior-level staff and strengthening its policies and procedures.

That’s great news, if entirely unsurprising. The Authority was always going to implement those recommendations, and those who tried to use the Auditor’s report to attack the project are now proved wrong. The Authority has always been a very responsive organization and has only become more responsive over the last year or so.

Dan Richard also discussed funding:

That approval also allowed the state to tap $3.2 billion from the federal government, but it’s still not known where the rest of the money will come from. The state’s business plan calls for some backing from private investors and for a private operator to run the system without a state subsidy.

High-speed rail board Chairman Dan Richard said he still doesn’t know the answer, but officials believe the financing will come from a variety of sources. He said he remains confident that private investors will step up to service and operate the trains, sell tickets and perform other functions once the initial segment is built.

“At this point we don’t have answers for you, but we do have a mindset,” he said. “It’ll be a series of 10 percent solutions; it won’t be a silver bullet.”

That makes sense, especially given the ongoing crisis of basic governance in Congress, where core government services will start getting cut and workers will be furloughed thanks to the “sequester” cuts later this week. Congress is a dysfunctional institution that is threatening almost every service the state of California delivers, well beyond high speed rail.

Unfortunately, for some State Senators, California’s future is something to be feared rather than embraced:

“I’m still looking for Plan B,” [Mark] DeSaulnier said.

He and other senators also questioned whether the state could build the bullet train without neglecting other, badly needed transportation work, such as highway reconstruction.

This isn’t an either/or situation. Highway reconstruction and passenger rail are both important, with the latter being the higher priority anyway given global warming. Roads need to be rebuilt, but that will require a new transportation funding solution. A new transportation funding model could address both basic maintenance and transit expansion, from local buses to high speed trains. There’s no need for a false choice here, and State Senators ought to be helping find solutions rather than picking holes in one of the few solutions we do have.

  1. joe
    Feb 27th, 2013 at 21:42

    “I’m still looking for Plan B,” [Mark] DeSaulnier said.

    I think he is referring to what to do after his 2 term limit (Snark). Like Alan Lowenthal, he probably wants to hit the US House.

    While it’s impossible to figure out why the concern about HSR and funding, I think it’s related to past criticisms of his being a big spender AND the 7th District is bypassed by the Pacheco Alignment.
    The Contra Costa Times editorial board was critical of DeSaulnier’s record as county supervisor. An editorial published in 2009 stated, “Many of the financial problems that afflict Contra Costa County today stem directly from decisions DeSaulnier championed while he was supervisor. Most notably, in 2002, at a time when the county faced a $31.5 million shortfall, was already laying off workers and was already experiencing increased public employee pension costs, DeSaulnier supported unsustainable pension increases that hiked benefits for public safety workers by as much as 50 percent. The plan allowed public safety workers to retire at age 50 with a pension worth 3 percent of their salary for each year served. Such excessive public employee union benefits have strained some local jurisdictions to the brink of bankruptcy.”[5]

  2. Eric M
    Feb 28th, 2013 at 08:22
    Feb 28th, 2013 at 09:07

    A tax on oil companies producing here will help alot ..they do it in “red” Texas and Alaska and so should we..The Repubs in Sac have let the oil companies get away with this nonsense..And we need a REAL transportation bill from DC ..I dont know what the President can do with the teabagger house until its voted out..As they know President and “blue” California like the concept of HSR..

  4. Jo
    Feb 28th, 2013 at 09:28

    There is a way for California to fund HSR and infrastructure without further federal funds as outlined in the SPUR report. Congress has become totally dysfunctional with leaders who are totally antiquated; so do not expect meaningful infrastructure funding from them. For them it will always be the same stagnated way of doing things. With the SPUR recommendations and some type of even mild tax reform and SPUR recommendations – it can be done. Even the most progressive amongst us are sort of close minded when it come to infrastructure funding and tax reform. It can be done, and I would be willing to bet that would not be that bad. The benefits would be well worth it.

    Joe Reply:

    SPUR wants $4 tolls from CV to LA. That would make the project unpopular. Also regressive.
    Joe would levy an oil extraction tax equal to Alaska’s oil extraction tax rate. Sarah Palin approved.

    Jo Reply:

    Sounds good to me.

    Derek Reply:

    SPUR wants $4 tolls from CV to LA. That would make the project…regressive.

    That’s a popular but false myth perpetuated by wealthy people who love regressive taxes. “As a group low-income residents, on average, pay more out-of-pocket with sales taxes” for freeways than with tolls.

    This is why “Support [for HOT lanes] is high across all income groups, with the lowest income group expressing stronger support than the highest income group (80% vs. 70%).”

    joe Reply:

    Tolling the highway to LA is a regressive tax. People pay more out-of-pocket with our regressive sales tax than regressive toll tax. Both are regressive. Hellooo.

    Joe’s Oil Severance tax is Sarah Palin Teabagger approved. She raised the severance tax in AL to 25%. Joe thinks that’s a perfect, non-regressive way to fund HSR.

    SPUR does not agree. Absolutely 100% Severance Tax free solutions to energy problems. Corporate friendly, profit friendly.

    SPUR can tell its corporate sponsors and foundations that they’re advocating public infrastructure the regressive taxes. That’s an awesome way to keep the SPUR funded by the largesse of the wealthy and corporate sponsors.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Other people! Pay for my train to work!
    Other people! Pay for my train to Visalia!
    Other people! Pay for my golf course!
    Other people! Pay for my water supply!
    Other people! Pay for my freeway!

    joe Reply:

    I also think the OIl severance tax can pay for improved mental health care in CA.

    That and people who can afford a home in Noe Valley might be asked to kick in a bit more, say 4% more of every dollar earned over 100k

    jimsf Reply:

    you’re a kook. and disingenuous, since you know that all of us pay taxes for other people’s stuff, locally, statewide, and nationally. Worse, this isn’t even your country to criticize in the first place so fuck off.

    Derek Reply:

    Because people from other countries have nothing useful to contribute to American society!

    jimsf Reply:

    missing the point of my comment. Are you also being disingenuous or just lacking in reading comprehension skills? It can only be one or the other.

    Derek Reply:

    Tolling the highway to LA is a regressive tax.

    Under California law, it isn’t a tax if it does not exceed the reasonable costs to the State of providing the service or product to the payor..

    Joe Reply:

    Oh we’ll then it is All good. For a second I thought we were asking people on poverty wages to pay a disproportional share of their income. They can pay tolls until their kids bellies swell.

    Derek Reply:

    Or they can avoid rush hour and pay a substantially reduced toll.

  5. jimsf
    Feb 28th, 2013 at 09:32

    I would like to see the gas tax replaced with with a surface transportation tax that would be divided equally between transit, rail and highway.

    or as Ive said before, we could shift to tolls that pay for specific highways.

    facility fees on rail tickets to fund infrastructure. ( people are already expecting to pay sales tax on their rail tickets and are surprised to find they are tax free)

    Or we can find money by cutting somewhere else. Or by finding something valuable to sell.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Excellent ideas Jim. Far-left progressives won’t like this one (and not my original idea), but I say allow oil fracking, tax it, and send the proceeds to help fund HSR.

    Jo Reply:

    You would be surprised.

    Tony D. Reply:

    For Bay Area, would love to see a HWY 84 tollway from 680 to 580 through Livermore and HWY 152 tollway in southern SCCO.

  6. jimsf
    Feb 28th, 2013 at 09:34

    I would like to see california build this without federal help. Just to show the rest of the country how lame they are.

    Jo Reply:

    As the SPUR report mentions, freeway tolls could be charged. They could be charged only when entering the bay area or Los Angeles. Even a modest toll charge would go a long way.

    joe Reply:

    Speaking of modest..

    A poverty study released this week paints a grim picture for Merced County, highlighting one of poverty’s growing victims — children.

    The county has a child poverty rate of 36 percent, the second highest in all 58 California counties, according to The Center for the Next Generation.

    Neighboring counties Fresno and Madera ranked in the top five for child poverty rates, with Fresno coming in at 36 percent and Madera at 35 percent. Stanislaus County’s child poverty rate was 28.5 percent. – See more at:

    Tolling the roads for HSR is both unfair and counterproductive. Asking a family of 4 that makes 22K a year to pay a $4 toll to LA is insanely ridiculous when CA doesn’t tax oil production.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    A family of four that makes 22k a year doesn’t go to LA unless they hitch a ride with someone who can afford the gas.

    Joe Reply:

    Too poor to matter.

    Maybe this fee to visit the coasts will have the advantage to keep people in their place – literally.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Excess population drives down the value of labor. There was a time unions recognized this.

    It is the life is cheap there principle – I don’t like it; I didn’t invent it. It enables exploitation.

    joe Reply:

    The right to freely associate and organize fixed this so-called excess people problem.
    Life quality and living standards increased with population and access to basic human rights.

    Life is equal.

    The civil rights removed the privilege of the white male. Sonia Sotomayor had an opportunity. You did too.

    synonymouse Reply:


    blankslate Reply:

    “A family of four that makes 22k a year doesn’t go to LA unless they hitch a ride with someone who can afford the gas.”

    Yes. Or they take Greyhound. A transportation system that requires car ownership for full participation is far more regressive than a $4 freeway tax.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I was assuming that if they lived in the Central Valley they had access to a car. At 22k a year – an old car. The cost of the gas and the risk that the old car breaks down far away from home are greater impediments than a 4 dollar toll.
    I haven’t checked in a long time. The median toll on Northeast roads is 5 cents a mile. 4 dollars is cheap. Not that the Federal government would allow tolling on I-5 to be used on anything other than maintaining I-5.

    YESONHSR Reply:

    Alot of our taxes go to “red” states….So no I want the federal goverment to pay for some of our HSR project..or our money just go to freeways eleswhere.

  7. synonymouse
    Feb 28th, 2013 at 10:43

    On the contrary Jerry Brown is showing the rest of the country – and the world – just how lame we are.

    Beppo Grillo tells the story:

    “Why do you think politicians in Italy aren’t looking to science and technology to help find a way out from economic crisis?
    Over the last decades politicians have removed many valuable people from industry and the government, in order to substitute them with their friends. So you end up with people in positions of power who know nothing about research, technology, innovation, clean energy, sustainable economy. Nothing!”

    To wit the firing of Van Ark for voicing the obvious and spurning SNCF’s expert advice.

    It is time to dump the backwoods AmBART and go back to a bare-bones starter. A Tejon and I-5 starter hsr from Sac to LA will provide the proof of concept and can come reasonably close to breaking even provided they use a private operator with a cheap union and forced transfers. On the LA end it would be to the portal or threshold around Santa Clarita initially. Great word for this in French is “le seuil”. Le Seuil de LaLa.

    This would be economical enough and rational enough to attract private interest and capital, similar to the SNCF proposal.

    C’mon, Barry Zoeller is not all powerful. Make Team Tejon an offer they cannot refuse. In truth their kneejerk opposition does not compute anyway as they are patent developers and urbanizers and hsr totally fits in with that modus operandi.

    StevieB Reply:

    Unlike an airline a railroad does more than provide service between endpoints. A route through Tejon Pass and up Interstate 5 would be faster between endpoints but do little for the transportation and economic needs of the millions along the route that would be bypassed. Your ideas are completely at odds with a transportation system for a prosperous California.

    synonymouse Reply:

    That is exactly the idea – as expressed in Prop 1A – of linking the endpoints of the Bay Area-Sac and the LA Basin, where the populations and the deep-pockets markets are. Bako and Fresno can be served by spurs.

    What you want is AmBART trashing the backyards and almond groves along 99 with aerials and for nothing. There is no market there in those car-centric strungout burgs for a BART on steroids. Boondoggle, baby.

    jimsf Reply:

    That WAS NOT the idea expressed in prop 1A by any stretch of your cockamamie imagination for had it been I would have voted no.You need to put down your crack pipe.

    The route map and stations shown prior to the election is exactly the same as the one shown today.
    Perhaps you were in the middle of some kind of relapse on election day.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How much does 50 miles of high speed rail from Fresno to I-5 cost?

    jimsf Reply:

    This is a market now and there will be a bigger market later.

    jimsf Reply:

    looks liek this doc shows that ag supports infill and high density in the central valley.

    jimsf Reply:

    valley growth

    synonymouse Reply:

    California ag is not the power it once was. An LA double or triple in size will grab all the water.

  8. Eric M
    Feb 28th, 2013 at 13:03

    California high-speed rail finally wins Peninsula lawsuit after five years

    ……Poor Morris Brown……

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    … it’s almost time to file the lawsuits saying that things have changed and a new EIR is required. Rinse repeat.

    VBobier Reply:

    And when the last lawsuit is tossed in April, that will be that and the project have the Green Light to go…

    ……Poor Morris Brown……

    The one significant case remaining against the project will be heard in court in April. In that case, Madera farmers opposed to the bullet train and suing under the state’s environmental law have asked a judge to block this summer’s groundbreaking.

    StevieB Reply:

    The suit was a costly inconvenience for California High Speed Rail construction.

    The case had been held up by businesses as an example for reforming California’s landmark environmental law, an effort that is underway in the Legislature this year. The Peninsula cities, which were opposed to the rail line coming through their towns because they thought it would disrupt their idyllic communities, had used the law as grounds to sue and delay the state’s biggest ever public works project, costing the state tens of thousands of dollars in court fees.

    Opponents still despairingly hold out hope for a Central Valley lawsuit.

    The one significant case remaining against the project will be heard in court in April. In the case, Madera farmers opposed to the bullet train and suing under the state’s environmental law have asked a judge to block this summer’s groundbreaking.

    The Atherton City Council on Feb. 20 unanimously approved contributing $10,000 and Burlingame is said to be contributing funds to the suit.

    Joe Reply:

    The next Menlo park council meeting will be a “pass the popcorn event”

    Lawsuit fail and the city settled a facebook campus related lawsuit to approve 1000 new homes and by May.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Was there ever any doubt about the machine puppet judiciary’s rubberstamp?

    Just going thru the motions. The Peninsula had to know that.

    A longer route? What a total crock! Do you have to ask how Rizzo and Noguez learned how to be crooks? California deserves its cartel future. We’ll make Greece look like Switzerland in comparison.

    jimsf Reply:

    or maybe the justice system worked as designed, and the sore losers just want to pout. That is the de rigueur response these days for everything.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “the justice system worked as designed”

    by the machine

    But PAMPA have to go thru the motions to lose the suit and win the negotiation. Like haggling for a new car at the dealership – you have to get up and move towards the door.

    jimsf Reply:

    if by “the machine” you mean the voters who voted and won the prop to build hsr.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Had my reading of Prop 1A been AmBART I would have voted no then.

    En revanche, now I vote no on pretty much everything.

    Tony D. Reply:


    YESONHSR Reply:

    HIPP HIPPP horray…common sense and long term thinking… instead of the backyards of people that KNEW they moved next to a railroad…and whine

  9. joe
    Feb 28th, 2013 at 20:48

    Like an absent student that tries to cram the entire course during finals week, Madera Co. has an alternative plan for HSR a few week prior to Construction. Check out the Map at the link.

    Madera County leader suggests new bullet-train route
    But state officials say it’s too late to change tracks

    Madera County, the Madera and Merced county farm bureau organizations and other groups are plaintiffs in a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court challenging the rail authority’s environmental approval for the Merced-Fresno section. Two other lawsuits against the state, one by the city of Chowchilla, the other by corporate property owners in Madera and Fresno counties, have been settled in recent weeks.

    Also on Thursday, a judge in Sacramento ruled against the Bay Area town of Atherton, which was suing the rail authority over its environmental review of potential routes along the San Francisco Peninsula.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    That route is completely laughable. Once that lawsuit is out of the way, then we can say a true HSR line is under construction in America.

    synonymouse Reply:

    No more laughable than the Tehachapi DeTour.

  10. Alon Levy
    Mar 1st, 2013 at 09:14

    How about this funding idea: California could sell bonds, supported by future taxes and operating profits. It could even go to a referendum on this.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Sounds somehow familiar.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I know, right? It’s as if the state came up with a funding plan and went to a referendum based on it or something…

    synonymouse Reply:

    Along those nostalgic lines I was thinking of a tax on tea as a means of paying PB for hollow-core.

    But tweaking for trendy, what about a “fee” on your favorite libations, lattes foremost, and other divertimentos such as cellphones and I-Stuff?

Comments are closed.