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Will the State Legislature Abandon California's Future?

by: Robert Cruickshank

Thu Dec 08, 2011 at 20:05:31 PM PST

In the 1930s, California legislators of both parties came together to work to end the Depression by putting people back to work building infrastructure that provided lasting value. They weren't cowed into submission by costs or financial concerns. They did what was necessary and what was right to solve the crisis and build a better future by building bridges and dams and canals across the state.

A generation later, legislators of both parties did it again. This time the economy was booming and money was no problem, but still our leaders recognized that the California Aqueduct, the freeways, and schools and universities were essential to current and future prosperity.

We're living on the benefits of those investments. But it is time to make new ones, for a new century, to face new challenges, and get us out of a new crisis. Sadly, the present leadership in the legislature - especially the Senate - appears to want to reject the proven path California took in the 20th century. Rather than spend money to create jobs and lasting economic value through new infrastructure, several Senate Democrats are now sounding just like right-wing Republicans in their attacks on the high speed rail project:

"The Field Poll confirmed what I already had come to believe: The public patience for this project is about exhausted," said state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

DeSaulnier said he has long supported the bullet train service as a way to fight congestion and greenhouse gases.

But he said Tuesday that he could turn against the project unless the California High Speed Rail Authority soon can answer questions about spiraling costs and uncertainty over federal and private funding for the project.

"I think it's time to fish or cut bait with this project," he said. "It may be too late."

DeSaulnier, who I have had a lot of respect for, is clearly out to lunch on this one. He's going to let one poll that asked a limited question about HSR and therefore isn't actually a good guide to public opinion on the subject convince him to give up on building California's future?

That's an absurd attitude to take. It's defeatist. And many of the infrastructure projects California now enjoys faced similar problems. After voters approved the Golden Gate Bridge bonds in November 1930, the financial crisis nearly made it impossible to sell the bonds. Ultimately the federal government worked out a deal to help back the bonds, and construction got under way by 1933, with the project completed by 1937. California didn't quit when the project got difficult. They worked hard to find solutions and got it done.

DeSaulnier, by contrast, appears ready to just give up. It makes no sense.

Especially when so much of California's hopes at economic recovery are riding on this project. The Central Valley initial construction segment could create over 10,000 construction jobs in the coming years. There is nothing else on the horizon to produce nearly that many jobs in this state, especially in one of the parts of the state where unemployment is the highest. DeSaulnier is reckless to just toss those jobs to the wind.

Particularly since California isn't actually risking anything by moving ahead with that segment. Prop 1A is quite clear that $9 billion in bonds are all that are authorized, and can only be spent on a 1:1 match with federal funds. If no more federal funds come, then no more state money is spent. The worst possible outcome is a bunch of people are paid good money to build unfinished rail infrastructure in the Valley and we call it a day. Even that would be a big stimulus for the Valley and the state.

And yet we know that outcome isn't very likely. The federal funding picture isn't very bright right now, but that is likely to change in the next few years. If not, again, the state isn't on the hook for anything else, so there's no risk but lots of potential rewards.

California's present crisis is the product of legislators who weren't willing any longer to do what it took to produce a stable, lasting prosperity. Rather than take their cues from Republicans and Democrats of the '30s, the '50s, and the '60s, they began to simply hide from their obligations and responsibilities. The state's education system is in crisis, unemployment is sky-high, poverty is rising, and because legislators wouldn't do enough to reduce dependence on oil, the state is in a lasting economic slump.

High speed rail is one way to help get out of it, by following a proven path of using infrastructure to provide short-term stimulus and long-term value. Democrats in Sacramento should know as well as anyone the need to do this and benefits it brings. I am pretty damn sure Mark DeSaulnier knows better than to just give up on California's future. And yet he might just do it all because one of unfavorable poll? That's a pretty damning indictment of the state legislature's ability and willingness to do what it takes to fix California.

Robert Cruickshank :: Will the State Legislature Abandon California's Future?
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Solyndra on steroids. (0.00 / 0)
Not all public investments are good investments - see Solyndra. I see no reason why the Senator's opinion should not be respected.

I am going to take a wild guess and presume the Golden Gate Bridge was more on time and on budget than the Bay Bridge retrofit.  We are living in times of great government incompetence.

More like (6.00 / 2)
Great Government underfunding, as in Sabotage...

[ Parent ]
And What You Forgot To Say.... (0.00 / 0)
The worst possible outcome is a bunch of people are paid good money to build unfinished rail infrastructure in the Valley and we call it a day. Even that would be a big stimulus for the Valley and the state.

We've got so much money in Sacramento, just sc**w the taxpayer...

[ Parent ]
HSR (2.00 / 1)
Don't throw good money after bad

The expected budget for HSR is exploding
The gang that is in charge of HSR seems intent of spending the public's money on PR
Millions of dollars have been squandered on public relations

Cut your losses
Let's find a way to end this project
Spend California's funds on useful priorities like education

I'd rather spend this money on BART or CalTrans or AC Transit

Bart and ac transit are good public transportation options (6.67 / 3)
But how does dumping money into CalTrans solve anything? We need to improve transportation between the North and South. Bart and Ac Transit don't do that.

The big myth that is going around in this debate is that killing HSR is a 0 cost option, as if it is totally unnecessary to get people from LA to SF, or that we can just survive with everybody sitting on the 5, or flying. But the problem is that our infrastructure is pretty far from being up to the kind of volume that we are going to need in the future. It is already overtaxed, what happens when we are at 50million people in the state?

Building those roads and those airports is far from free, and then we are left with a legacy transportation system that doesn't address climate change in any meaningful way.

Simply put, status quo is not an option.

I think?

[ Parent ]
Yep (0.00 / 0)
Bart and Ac Transit are local, Not Inter-City...

[ Parent ]
What happens (0.00 / 0)
When SouthWest, JetBlue and United give up on the LA-SF routes? What then Mr Oh what we have now is good enough?

Start building or start driving, thems Yer choices.

[ Parent ]
HSR has strategic value for the state, austerity does not (8.00 / 1)
What Brian said.  

Even if the funds were diverted to education, which would also stimulate the economy given the jobs that would be restored, how can failing to build infrastructure get us out of the economic downward spiral?  What does austerity add?

Regarding Solyndra, it's not representative of the majority of clean energy funding outcomes.  It's one. To use that as example requires supporting evidence.

I'm union staff, but not a spokesperson for my union - all posts represent my views solely.

HSR (2.00 / 1)
I'm just afraid that some connected insiders will soak up big bucks
So far HSR spending has only benefited PR Flacks
Well connected PR firms are raking in the money
HOW Does THAT help California??

Don't throw good money after bad

[ Parent ]
HSR screwed the pooch (0.00 / 0)
If you look at the money disbursaed so far, its a whos who of political flacks, insiders, and scoundrels.  The full employment act for political operatives, and what have they got us for all those millions?  They took a good idea that polled at over 60% favorable to a train wreck and a public joke that polls at over 60% negative.

HSR remains a good idea, but it remains to be seen if the people who pull the political strings in this state can ever get it done.

Lets start eating this elephant one bite at a time.  Take some of the the $9 billion and electrify Caltrain.  That would be a great start.

I'm sure that "insiders" skimmed undeserved fees from the construction of (0.00 / 0)
the interstate highways, Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, the California Aqueduct, BART and every other public works project of the last century. It's just one of many obstacles such projects face. And it's one that the lobbyists from BigOil Inc. work hard to magnify in the public imagination.

[ Parent ]
HUH ?? (0.00 / 0)

It was a different culture back then

And FDR was twice the man any of the current political pygmies are   Barack Obama ??  Slick Willie Clinton ?  Lying Al Gore ??  Jimmie Carter ??
(to say nothing of Nude Gingrich, Professor Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann!!!)

You seem to be saying it's OK for PR flacks and Insiders to rip us off
Everybody else is doing it !!!
That incompetence and graft in the HSR Board is to be expected and accepted
What's a few million between friends ??

Does not Compute

[ Parent ]
Supporters of the Golden Gate Bridge spent a decade on "PR" to develop support (0.00 / 0)
for what was criticized as "a bridge to nowhere". The original budget was $25 million. It grew to $35 million. Contractors padded invoices. Speculators grew rich buying and selling Marin County farmland.

Read more about the controversy and opposition to the bridge project at

Despite the urgency of the war, and FDR's great stature, he couldn't stop graft and corruption inside America's war industries. Harry Truman made his reputation as a crusading senator who investigated and exposed that kind of malfeasance.

No, it's not OK for insiders to rip off the public. But it's a fact of life - and in the long view, it's not a sufficient reason to stop these projects from moving forward.

[ Parent ]
Supporters of the Golden Gate Bridge spent a decade on "PR" to develop support (0.00 / 0)
That may well be......
But, NOT wiith public funds

Sorry, we're NOT gonna get anymore support from DC
Not with Tea Buggers and Weak Barack
We're on our own and the HSR board is squandering all the money of PR and the 'High Life;

Cut your losses
You're NOT gonna be able to bring HSR down the Peninsula
Cut your losses

[ Parent ]
Obama and the GOP (0.00 / 0)
HSR is a long-term project; Obama will not be president after 2017 (term limits) and one hopes the electorate will come to its senses before then about the GOP extremists and the austerians.

[ Parent ]
Here's the underlying problem (0.00 / 0)
Courtesy of Gallup:


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