CALIFORNIA’S BOONDOGGLES THREATEN PROPERTY OWNERS AND TAXPAYERS
One would hope that, with the profound foolishness associated with California’s infamous High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, our elected leadership would have learned a thing or two.
But this is California. Because we do things bigger and better than anyone else, it’s apparent that one massive boondoggle isn’t enough — we need two.
Let’s recap what we’ll call Boondoggle Senior.
The complete dysfunction of HSR is no longer in dispute. Missed deadlines for the business plans, lack of transparency, massive cost overruns, engineering hurdles that make the project virtually impossible to complete and a lack of funding are tops on the list. Not only is HSR no longer viable, but the biggest irony is the project was justified on grounds that it would reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Even there it fails, as the independent Legislative Analyst has concluded, because the project will be a net GHG producer for the foreseeable future.
HSR is now an international joke. Many who originally supported the High-Speed Rail project have changed their opinions, including a former chairman of the HSR Authority.
Boondoggle Junior is the planned construction of the Twin Tunnels project through the Sacramento River Delta, also known as WaterFix. While there is no doubt that California needs additional water infrastructure — and the dams and canals we have now are in need of serious maintenance — Governor Brown’s Twin Tunnels project suffers from the same major flaw as High-Speed Rail — an abject lack of planning and no vision for how the project will be funded.
Like the High-Speed Rail project, the financing for the Twin Tunnels is illusory. Many of the potential major wholesale customers of water from the Twin Tunnels are highly skeptical of its viability and balk at paying for it. The one exception is the Metropolitan Water District in the greater L.A. area, which has now said it will pay for the full project. Of course, that means its customers will pay.
Lack of transparency is another quality the Twin Tunnels project shares with HSR. Earlier this week, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee held a hearing that opened the way for an extension of the long-term contracts for the State Water Project for another 50 years. (The hearing was supposed to be conducted in the waning days of the Legislative session, but because the topic is so controversial, it was delayed until after everyone left town.)
Amendments to the water contracts that have raised eyebrows are the elimination of a restriction that says bonds cannot be used for any project built after 1987 and a provision that removes the requirement for consensus among the water contractors. This could allow a majority of agencies to run roughshod over those who object.
Finally, the real threat from the manner in which water issues are being jammed through a backroom process is the potential for unvoted property tax increases to pay for the Twin Tunnels project.
Taxpayer advocates will continue to monitor this unfolding controversy and do what is necessary to ensure the much-needed transparency that is currently lacking. And, of course, if the ultimate outcome envisions property tax hikes that are not approved by the voters who will have to pay them, the next step will be a trip to the courthouse that will be much faster than any High-Speed Rail project.