CA Legislature: Know-Nothings Approve HSR Funding

CA Legislature:
Know-Nothings Approve HSR Funding

07/06/12 Filed in:

Friday’s no-margin
majority vote in the CA Senate to fund the $6 billion
130-mile HSR project in the Central Valley was marked
by a stunning disconnect between the majority that
passed the budget measure and the members most
informed about the project. The majority plugged
their ears to the detailed explanations of the
measure’s flaws given by three courageous Democratic
Senators and the Republicans. Facts didn’t matter.

Senator Simitian of Palo Alto gave
the speech of his
life
.

Although a long-time supporter of the concept of
High-Speed Rail for California, Simitian’s conclusion
was: “This is the wrong plan, in the wrong place, and
at the wrong time.” He was also concerned that voters
would react to this vote by turning down the
Governor’s tax extension measures in November, with
devastating consequences to education and social
service programs.

Senators DeSaulnier and Lowenthal, Chair and former
Chair of the Senate Transportation and Housing
Committee, who have held countless hearings on
High-Speed Rail, spoke out strongly against the
measure. These three and Senator Pavley were the only
Democrats voting against the funding measure.

According to press reports, a 2010 promise by the
President to secure the vote of Representative Jim
Costa on health care reform resulted in the federal
insistence that its HSR funding go entirely to a
project in Costa’s Central Valley district.

The three Senators were convinced that spending $6
billion in that area would put the State at great
risk of being left with a very expensive piece of
useless track.

They produced an alternative plan that would have spent most of
the money on immediately useful track improvements
in Los Angeles and San Francisco, including a $2
billion extension of Caltrain to the Transbay
Transit Center. Here’s their
presentation.

The politics to enforce the promise to Costa were
intense: The Secretary of Transportation threatened
to take back the $3 billion: This vote would prove
the President’s HSR plan was working. The Governor
had made this project his priority, and the Senate
President pro Tem corralled the necessary votes.

I was surprised by the consistently thoughtful and
articulate comments by Republicans, which challenged
my naive beliefs about the Party of No.

By contrast, the Democratic majority was
embarrassing. These party hacks spoke in platitudes
and generalities, totally ignoring the substantive
criticisms of the project by the three committee
chairmen who knew the most about the project.
Shockingly, the majority also ignored scathing
reports by state agencies, including the Legislative
Analyst’s Office, which recommended rejecting the
funding plan.

This was a total policy meltdown, where loyal party
members allowed themselves to be played as
marionettes by their leader, shirking their
responsibility to independently conduct a substantive
decisionmaking process.

At least three Democratic Senators heroically
declared the Emperor had no clothes. No Democrat in
the Assembly did that.

Of course, the TV news reports failed to give any
sense of the depth of policy failure or the dire
consequences of yesterday’s vote.

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