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Our View: Rail plan needs to bite the bullet

Posted: December 18, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: December 18, 2011 1:30 a.m.

In November 2008, voters passed a measure by a narrow margin to build a bullet-train system in California by approving a $10 billion bond to build the rail system’s first phase.

The concept had been pushed for the ballot on two prior occasions, but blocked by the state Legislature. The first phase would link Los Angeles and Orange counties in the South with Fresno and San Francisco in the North. Later, the 800-mile system would add San Diego and Sacramento. Backers claim the bullet train could rapidly move Californians up and down the state at speeds more than 200 mph, and sold the idea to voters by asserting that it would be faster, less polluting and reduce long airport lines.

The California High Speed Rail Authority released a plan for implementing the high-speed rail project. Guess what. The costs had doubled. Some estimates put the new total build-out cost at $100 billion.

As reported by the Sacramento Bee, a new Field Poll shows that “More than three-fourths of registered voters said they should be given another chance to vote on the project and, by a 2-1 margin, they want it to be killed.”  We couldn’t agree more.

Government-bonded indebtedness at all levels is a looming calamity. In the late 1980s, debt service was about 1 percent of the total budget, and by 2009, it had raised fourfold.

While the state’s current bond debt burden runs about 8 percent of the total economy, the number balloons to over 35 percent when you count other significant debt, such as underfunded public pension plans.

California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer reports that nearly $50 billion of new California public debt has been added in 2011 alone. Lots of debt. Lots of numbers. Lots of concern.

The Obama administration has been steadfast in its support of California’s bullet-train project. The Federal Railroad Commission has committed $3.3 billion to start in the Central Valley with a $700 million grant to start.

David Nunes, a Central Valley Republican congressman and bullet-train-opposition leader, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “The High Speed Rail Authority has spent $800 million over the past 15 years  on studies, salaries and consultants without laying a single inch of track.”

We are not against using public debt to finance the needs of California. However, in these difficult economic times, we do think it is important to prioritize additional debt in accordance with California’s more pressing needs. A 200 mph bullet train blasting through the San Joaquin is not one of them. It is time for the bullet-train boondoggle to take the bullet.

A growing number of California cities are opposing the statewide project, and Santa Clarita should be one of them. We look forward to bringing this measure to a vote again and doing what the Field Poll suggests.


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