Commuters, Travelers and Junketers
According to press reports, Fresno Assemblyman Henry T. Perea is off to Spain to study high-speed rail while accompanied by business and labor representatives. He is being joined by his father, Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea.
Out-of-state travel by California politicians is common. Lawmakers say such trips are valuable in learning about programs and policies in other states and countries. Other times travel is justified as an opportunity to attend conferences with those facing similar issues. That the destinations of these trips are so often 5-star hotels in desirable vacation spots is dismissed as coincidence by the journeying elected officials. Still, it seems strange that so many “important” conferences take place in locations like Hawaii and not in Narvik, in northern Norway, during the fall and winter. A few years ago, a number of Los Angeles City Council members jetted off to Paris in the springtime, explaining that the trip was necessary to study public toilets. (You can’t make this stuff up.)
In fairness to Assemblyman Perea, who is termed out next year, there is no suggestion that taxpayers are footing the bill for his weeklong trip — the expenses will be paid out of campaign contributions, according to his spokeswoman.
While there is nothing unusual about trips like these by lawmakers, this does not relieve concerns that these junkets are far from being in the best interests of average taxpayers.
When spending a great deal of time in the company of those who have an interest in pending legislation or government policy, there is the risk that their concerns will become a priority for the lawmakers. After a glass of wine and good paella, the dubious arguments of lobbyists can begin to make sense to even those with a great deal of willpower.
In the case of Perea, there is little additional risk to taxpayers, since he is already a forthright and committed supporter of high-speed rail. “A successful high-speed rail system will bring good paying jobs to the community, while making Fresno more accessible for economic investments,” he has stated.
However, it should be noted that the current high-speed rail program, that is intended to speed travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco and Los Angeles and Sacramento, will do little or nothing for average Californians who spend, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 27 minutes traveling to work — nearly an hour for the round trip. So while a program that may be a boon to those who can afford to travel, it will do nothing to provide relief to those sitting in traffic while commuting to and from work.
Leftist social engineers who want to repopulate the inner city using urban lofts, tony restaurants and cultural attractions as a lure, don’t want people commuting to work. They want to promote a “Starbucks” lifestyle, where everyone lives near where they are employed and if necessary, use a bicycle or public transportation – the Los Angeles City Council recently approved a plan to reduce hundreds of miles of vehicle traffic lanes to provide more room for bicyclists.
While the social engineers may not like the traditional suburbs it is here that most Californians continue to live, and for them bicycling to work is not a practical option. They want to see improved roads and local transportation options, not a train intended to whisk the leisure class off to far away cities. They want their transportation dollars spent to make their lives easier. They show no desire to pay an outrageous sum – hundreds of billions — to subsidize a project that, assuming it even gets built, will serve very few.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard JarvisTaxpayersAssociation — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayerorganization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.