Would you trust a surgeon who has a history of amputating the wrong limb? Of course not. For the same reason, California taxpayers should not trust our state politicians with more transportation dollars. Let’s get one thing clear from the outset. Any spending on the California high-speed rail project is, by definition, transportation spending. Therefore, any discussion about the wisdom of repealing the gas tax cannot ignore what the state of California has done with its “showcase” transportation project.
The complete dysfunction of HSR is no longer in dispute.
The latest development is the failure of the HSR authority to issue its revised business plan to the California Legislature as required by law. Its excuse? The authority is in the midst of hiring staff so it can’t issue a timely report. Besides being a complete non sequitur, one would think that the hiring of additional staff would be a reason to issue a report as soon as possible.
Moreover, this latest shortcoming is consistent with the authority’s continued aversion to transparency. Just last month, Republican legislators called for an emergency audit when it became evident that just the Central Valley segment of the project was $1.7 billion over budget. While that request was denied, this week Democratic legislator Jim Beall joined with Republicans seeking a comprehensive audit when it was revealed that the Central Valley segment was actually a stunning $2.8 billion over budget.
Many who originally supported the high-speed rail project have had a dramatic change of heart. Quentin Kopp, a former state senator and High Speed Rail Authority chairman, is now vigorously opposed, noting that “this is not what the voters approved.” Likewise, the San Jose Mercury News this week ran an editorial entitled, “Stop the California Bullet Train in its Tracks.”
The foolishness of the project is especially evident when considering that one of its main purposes was the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, that justification is why the project is currently being funded almost exclusively by “cap-and-trade” funds that are generated by the sale of “carbon credits,” a hidden tax on energy.
But ironically, even the respected, nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office notes that the project is a net greenhouse gas producer. If the state of California were more serious about GHG emissions, it would direct those funds into more traditional transportation projects including road improvements and lane capacity. Stopped traffic produces more pollution than traffic that moves.
Despite the higher gas and car taxes that drivers have been paying since November, a new report by the State Auditor says transportation infrastructure remains one of the “high risk” issues facing California. Why? Because of uncertainty about the “effective and efficient use” of the money collected from the tax hikes.
In short, our current political leadership, which jammed the massive car and gas tax increase down our throats without a vote of the people, has no credibility whatsoever as acceptable stewards of transportation dollars. And as long the high-speed rail project continues, they never will.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. This column appeared in the Orange County Register on January 28, 2018.