On Wednesday Representative Jeff Denham and State Senator Andy Vidak called for a new public vote on high speed rail in a Sacramento Bee op-ed. Their arguments were full of the usual flaws, the most important of which is Denham’s omission that he has been waging war against HSR since the day he was sworn in as a member of Congress:
Voters were sold a $33 billion project that would receive equal parts financing from the state, federal government and private investors with a guarantee to taxpayers that it would be fiscally responsible and not need an ongoing subsidy.
Since then the project has skyrocketed in cost, ballooning to $98 billion for the full 600 miles – later sliced to $68 billion by eliminating segments from San Francisco to Sacramento, and Los Angeles to San Diego – while the federal government has committed just south of $3.5 billion.
The project would indeed have received that federal money had Denham not done everything in his power to stop it. Congress was all set to commit a lot more than $4 billion until Denham and his Tea Party allies seized control of the House of Representatives in 2011. If Democrats retook the House this fall, they would indeed authorize new federal HSR funds in 2015.
Denham and Vidak are also misleading on the facts. The $33 billion figure was an early estimate in 2008 dollars for the LA to SF system. The segments from SF to Sacramento and LA to SD weren’t part of that $33 billion or the Prop 1A funding plan, and they haven’t been “eliminated” – merely deferred.
Even the Democratic chair of the California Senate Transportation Committee admits the true costs of high-speed rail could really be $350 billion
They’re referring to Mark DeSaulnier, and while I hadn’t heard that remark of his before, it would be incredibly stupid of him to say it if he did. The true costs of HSR could hardly be $350 billion. I cannot imagine a way to come up with that figure. But the costs of not building HSR are easily that high if not greater, when you figure in not just the costs of expanding airports and freeways but also the costs of carbon emissions, the effects of global warming (such as drought), and the costs of importing and burning fossil fuels. DeSaulnier should know better than to be handing ammunition to Republicans like this. I know he plans to run for Congress; hopefully Nancy Pelosi will sit him down and explain a few things to him before he gets to Capitol Hill and spends his time handing victories to Denham and the Republicans.
Denham and Vidak go on to discuss the issue of a required state payment to the federal government for high speed rail, the one that the Federal Railroad Administration recently delayed to July 1. They make several new allegations here:
To make matters worse, the authority must match every dollar that has already been spent by federal taxpayers. The first of these payments – $180 million – was originally required to be received by April 1. Last week the Federal Railroad Administration announced that the deadline has been postponed to July 1. A second payment of $800 million is due the following year. If the authority fails to come up with this money, the federal government can withhold other sources of funds from California to make up the difference. Those funds could include transportation, public safety or even education funding. Point being that the fiscal irresponsibility of this project is now endangering federal grant dollars that are meant to protect and educate our children.
First off, Denham is in no position whatsoever to talk about “fiscal irresponsibility.” He and his party have repeatedly acted irresponsibly by putting the entire national economy at risk when they threatened a default by opposing an increase in the debt ceiling. Denham also is shedding crocodile tears for these other programs like public safety, transportation and education that he and his party are busy slashing as much as they can get away with in Congress. He doesn’t care about those other programs and wants to slash them at the first possible opportunity. But they have value to him as a cudgel against HSR.
It is this claim that led California High Speed Rail Authority board chair Dan Richard to slam Denham and Vidak in today’s SacBee:
Indeed, virtually none of their “facts” are facts at all, but false assertions and phony suppositions.
An egregious example is the claim that the High-Speed Rail Authority faced a make-or-break $180 million payment to the federal government on April 1 – a doomsday scenario created out of wholecloth by Denham for apparent dramatic effect.
Denham and Vidak made another claim that Richard debunked:
No matter; Brown recently stated the federal government will deliver that $20 billion in 2015. Yet President Barack Obama just signed a bipartisan funding plan that delivers zero additional federal dollars to the troubled project for the fourth straight year.
Note that Denham blames Obama for this when Denham has been adamant since the day he arrived on Capitol Hill that he will not under any circumstances support another dime for high speed rail. Richard fired back at this claim:
The hyperventilating polemics don’t stop there. No, Gov. Jerry Brown did not state that the federal government would come up with $20 billion in 2015. No, the project will not cost hundreds of billions. And, no, riders will not have to change trains four times to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles, as Republican House members claimed recently in a bacchanalia of bogus bromides.
Sadly, we live in an era in which the media will breathlessly repeat these Republican lies because most reporters no longer believe in fact-checking what politicians tell them. So it’s up to blogs like this and op-eds like Dan Richard’s to do the media’s job for them.
Denham and Vidak conclude their op-ed with a call for an end to the project:
The law is clear that moving forward without securing state funding will put future federal funding at risk, including transportation, public safety and education dollars. It’s time that Brown put the brakes on this poorly executed project.
Actually, what puts transportation, public safety, and education dollars at risk is continued GOP control of the House. And we know that Denham will not ever vote for another dollar of future federal HSR funding under any circumstances, nor will Vidak in the legislature. So these guys are simply not worth listening to since nothing whatsoever will convince them to change their minds.