A horrible bill dealing with California’s controversial high speed rail projects just cleared the Legislature. It compels us to reexamine the lexicon politicians use to create a very clear impression in the mind of the listener that what is being said is benevolent and true, when, in fact, it is not.
This week’s featured terms are “government transparency,” which to normal people means “open and honest,” and “government oversight,” the plain meaning of which is “watchful and responsible supervision.” To political insiders, however, the meaning of both these terms is “bury it.”Lawmakers have approved Senate Bill 76 that includes language that cuts the currently mandated twice-annual reports from the California High-Speed Rail Authority to once every two years, meaning that time between reports will be four times as long.
Let’s keep in mind that those responsible for the bullet train, which to date is little more than a fantasy, have repeatedly broken faith with the public.
Voters who approved a $10 billion dollar bond to kick start the estimated $30 billion project were told that most of the costs would be picked up by the federal government and private sector investment, and trips between Los Angeles and San Francisco would take about two hours and forty minutes with tickets costing less than $50. Today’s plan looks nothing like what voters were promised. The trip times and ticket prices have nearly doubled, Congress is looking to pull the plug and the private sector has shown no inclination to provide funding to help cover what has become a total cost of at least $68 billion. No wonder surveys show that most Californians now oppose what has become the most expensive public works project in the history of our nation.
Now, the Legislature — perhaps out of embarrassment over the shortcomings of their pet train program — is agreeing to allow what appears to be a rogue agency to issue reports less often.
Californians cannot be blamed if they feel like they are being poorly served by public officials, who are, in essence, telling them “Move along, there is nothing to see here.” Most employers — and the public is the employer of record — want to look closely at the conduct of employees who appear to be incompetent and possibly dishonest. They want more oversight not less.
To add insult to injury, apparently High-Speed Rail officials are underestimating the public’s intelligence. Commenting on the reduced reporting requirement, spokeswoman Lisa-Marie Alley told the Associated Press, “It’s not about being less transparent, it’s actually about being more efficient in our transparency.”
Perhaps we should add the term “government efficiency” to our list of words used by the political class to mislead the public.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.