Fresno’s Economy May Suffer If HSR Isn’t Built
Fresno County has been hit hard by the Great Recession and its extremely weak recovery. Currently their unemployment rate is 13.4%, a rate that has not budged significantly in over three years. Stubbornly high unemployment in the region is a drag on the rest of the state along with an obvious social and economic crisis. So anything that can alleviate the jobs crisis there and provide a lasting foundation for better economic performance would be welcome.
High speed rail provides exactly that kind of benefit. But because of the last-ditch efforts by project opponents to block construction, in spite of the economic benefits, Fresno’s economic forecast is looking worse:
Uncertainty over the fate of high-speed rail is casting a shadow on a 2014 economic and employment forecast for the Fresno region, according to a report issued Thursday by the University of the Pacific.
“Our forecast for Fresno would be increased somewhat if the high-speed rail construction begins as scheduled,” said economist Jeff Michael, director of the Stockton university’s Business Forecasting Center. But a ruling in a court challenge of the project’s financing plan makes the start of construction “highly uncertain at this point.”…
Michael said that if the judge allows construction to proceed, “it certainly has the potential to put Fresno’s employment growth up over 2% and more in line with the rest of the state.”
Opposition to high speed rail, like other forms of austerity, occurs without regard to the economic consequences. It’s as if it doesn’t matter that thousands will suffer without jobs, that the weak employment scene will act as a drag on the region and state as a whole. The elites who oppose HSR construction – and they are almost always elites of a given location – don’t care about the economic suffering of others. They are in it for themselves and care only about their own narrow, short-term self-interest.
It’s a sad commentary on the weakness of the recovery that four years after the recession formally ended, and four and a half years after the federal stimulus bill was approved, that funding for HSR would still be a dramatic economic boost. But that’s exactly the situation in which we are in.
75 years ago California faced a similar crisis. The state benefited from major infrastructure projects like Boulder Dam, the Central Valley Project, and the bay bridges. Today, however, it is the new Hoovers who are in power in the U.S. House, and even though California government, the U.S. Senate, and the White House are in the hands of people whose values are closer to Franklin D. Roosevelt than to Hoover, the House – led by Central Valley Republicans – is able to impose its austerity on everyone else.
Fresno’s local leaders fully support high speed rail. It’s too bad that Central Valley Republicans in Congress don’t, and prefer to see their constituents unemployed and their local businesses struggle to get by rather than get the shot in the arm that HSR construction jobs would provide.