California Republicans Show Their True Colors on Rail
In a move that was as predictable as the sun rising in the east, California Assembly Republicans have proposed to ask voters to redirect the high speed rail funds to freeway lanes:
Under the plan announced by a group of Republicans, voters would be able to decide whether to channel $8.5 billion in bond money, endorsed by voters via a 2008 ballot initiative, towards local transportation infrastucture projects….
In addition to redirecting the high-speed rail money, the Republican package of four bills would dedicate up to $2.5 billion of a newfound state surplus to paying off transportation loans; ensure billions in fuel tax money flows annually into local infrastructure projects, per the terms of Proposition 42; and compel the state to repay $2.5 billion in gasoline tax revenue diverted elsewhere during lean budget years.
Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, whose district includes Visalia – a city that strongly support HSR because of the benefits they know it will bring – emphasized that roads were what they had in mind when they referred to local projects:
“Californians are fed up with the broken promises of high-speed rail and they should have the final say on its future,” said Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, of Tulare. “Our proposal would ask the people to decide whether high-speed rail dollars should be used to build or repair roads, highways, bridges and ports and create 108,000 jobs from Red Bluff to San Diego – or whether we should continue to throw money at the ‘Little Engine That Could.’”
Republicans are hanging their hat on this 2011 Transportation Needs Assessment conducted for the California Transportation Commission, which lists several unmet needs around the state. But the report includes high speed rail as a key need, points out that it meets the metrics laid out in state policies like SB 375 – including CO2 reduction and economic activity generation.
That report also shows, on page 27 of the pdf, that vehicle miles traveled has been in decline in California for nearly 10 years, and has been stagnant since the early part of this century. VMT is similar to ridership for a rail system. And if VMT is going down, then it raises serious questions as to whether new freeway infrastructure is needed – not to mention the cost in oil consumption or CO2 emissions.
Republicans don’t care about any of those things, of course. They’re all for high oil prices, since oil companies are a key part of their financial base. As a result of that, Republicans don’t care about climate change, because doing something about it would offend their donors. And they don’t believe freeway lanes need to be subjected to the kind of hard or close analysis they have insisted HSR be held to.
California does need to do more to maintain its existing roads. But it also needs to do more to expand transit systems, including HSR, as the 2011 report indicated. The Republican solution is to defund rail and plow the money into roads. That’s moronic. The better answer is to raise taxes to fund road repairs as well as transit, from local buses to high speed rail and everything in between.
Because Republicans are a fringe political party in California, this proposal will not go anywhere. And that’s good, it’s a retrograde concept that would make most of California’s problems much worse. But Democrats do need to address the state’s transit and maintenance needs. Hopefully this will remind them of the need to get cracking on that solution.