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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