This Train Won’t Leave the Station

High Speed Rail ConstructionGovernor Gavin Newsom has canceled the bulk of the state’s long-proposed high-speed line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, leaving only a tail of the once-grand project — a connection between the Central Valley’s Merced and Bakersfield, not exactly major metropolitan areas. “Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address. “The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.” The project’s cost, originally pegged at $33 billion, ballooned over the last decade to an estimated $77 billion (or maybe as high as $98 billion), with little reason to assume that the cost inflation would end there.

This effectively puts an end to former governor Jerry Brown’s “legacy” project, the lone tangible accomplishment for a second gubernatorial stint that had been far better at raising taxes and imposing draconian legislation than building things. Brown wanted to build his beloved train in a state with some of the nation’s worst roads (despite its second-highest gas taxes), a deteriorating water-delivery system, and massive pension debt. With Brown finally in retirement, Newsom took the opportunity to free up billions of dollars that his Democratic allies would like to spend in other ways.

Perhaps the most critical national casualty may be the Green New Deal proposed by New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Much of her platform for a ten-year transformation of the American economy centers on transportation. In her bid to kill the internal-combustion engine, Ocasio-Cortez apparently seeks to eliminate both cars and planes. Her favored solution for cross-continental travel: a massive network of high-speed trains.

Some of this must seem fanciful even to the democratic-socialist heartthrob from the Bronx. In contrast with Western Europe, where several high-speed rail lines operate, the United States has huge distances between cities; its average population density is generally lower than that of the European continent. Even on the California coast, a 450-mile high-speed rail trip from  Los Angeles to San Francisco would have taken nearly four hours, compared with a one-hour plane ride. Imagine taking high-speed rail from Los Angeles to Chicago: a three-hour trip by plane becomes a 15-hour or longer trek across vast, empty spaces. During that time, the traveler would cover more high-speed rail mileage than the current length of the entire French system.

Even fervent supporters of the Green New Deal must recognize what California’s cancellation means: if high-speed rail is not feasible in the state with the three densest major metro areas in the nation, and the highest overall urban density, it is not feasible anywhere else in the United States. (And not just here: Britain’s proposed high-speed rail megaproject, HS2, also appears on the verge of cancellation. Sounding like Governor Newsom, a senior government official told Channel 4’s Dispatches public affairs program: “The costs are spiraling so much we’ve been actively considering other scenarios, including scrapping the entire project.”) It also suggests that the costs for a national network would be formidable and would require the printing presses at the Treasury to work overtime. Of the many high-speed rail lines built in the developed world, only two (Tokyo-Osaka and Paris-Lyon) have ever been profitable, and in each case highway tolls for the same routes exceed $80 one-way, making high-speed rail in those cases an economical consumer choice. California, the green heart of the resistance, has met fiscal reality; reality won.

Some greens and train enthusiasts, such as the deep-blue Los Angeles Timeseditorial board, have criticized Newsom’s move, and others remain adamant in their support of the plane-to-train trope. But California, which has embarked on its own Green New Deal of sorts, has seen these results:  high energy and housing costs, and the nation’s highest cost-adjusted poverty rate, and a society that increasingly resembles a feudal social order. Attempts to refashion global climate in one state reflects either a peculiarly Californian hubris or a surfeit of revolutionary zeal.

Of course, Newsom and the bullet train’s supporters justify spending billions more on the Central Valley line as a way of reviving the terribly challenged, impoverished economy of that region. Yet greens and their allies have already shown what comes of putting their ideas into practice—cutting water supplies to farmers, blocking new energy production, and leaving Route 99, the Valley’s main thoroughfare, in such awful shape that it has been named the country’s most dangerous highway. The Valley does not need a bullet train to nowhere. It needs, rather, policies that allow for its basic industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and energy, to expand and provide desperately needed jobs. Oil-rich California has been replacing in-state production for imported petroleum, to the enrichment of Saudi Arabia but to the detriment of California workers.

Newsom’s pullback from Brown’s Olympian high-speed rail vision may reflect growing concerns about the state’s economy. After several years of fairly robust growth, California’s job machine is now producing employment at mediocre rates, and worse than that in its biggest urban area, Los Angeles. The real-estate market, which was driving some of the revenue gains, appears stuck, with sales down and prices headed in that direction, though the regulatory environment is skewed to facilitate price escalation. If stock performance is weak, California could see its greatest source of revenue—capital gains from Silicon Valley—reduced. The last quarter saw falling tax collections, and any hiccup in the tech money machine, or even a mild recession, could prove devastating, as Brown himself warned before leaving office.

In Washington, Ocasio-Cortez and others will continue to push their fantastical Green New Deal, at least until the Senate votes on it. With the utterly predictable demise of California’s high-speed rail project, however, the Golden State may prove the unlikely place where would-be planetary redeemers were brought back to earth.

California Cronyism and its Consequences

Crony capitalism is an economy in which businesses thrive not as a result of risk, but rather as a return on money amassed through a nexus between a business class and the political class. This is done using state power to crush genuine competition in handing out permits, government grants, special tax breaks, or other forms of state intervention.
– Wikipedia, Feb. 2019

If the goal of public policy is to optimize the role of government, cronyism must be identified and curbed wherever possible. Cronyism wastes the limited resources of governments, at the same time as it reduces the efficiency of the private sector by using subsidies and other incentives to undermine healthy competition.

The harm caused by crony capitalism can best be illustrated by example. In California, cronyism is a major culprit in one of the worst policy failures in recent decades, the housing and the related homeless crisis. Several types of cronyism played into California’s housing debacle. The most significant was cronyism that took the form of regulations that favored the wealthiest, most established corporations, while driving the smaller, emerging competitors out of the housing business entirely.

This form of cronyism through regulations was originally described by Bruce Yandle, now with the Mercatus Center, back in 1983. Yandle, writing for the American Enterprise Institute, coined the phrase “Bootleggers and Baptists,” to describe how during prohibition, the bootleggers who profited from the trade in expensive illicit liquor, would support the temperance movement’s Baptist activists and others, who lobbied against legislation to restore affordable legal booze. This concept applies perfectly to California’s punitive legislation that restricts land development.

For the past 30-40 years, and especially in the last decade or two, a growing assortment of laws and regulations have driven control over all major land development into the hands of a shrinking group of very large corporations. Using Yandle’s analogy, these are the bootleggers. Smaller landowners and construction companies have to sell out or subcontract to these large corporations, because there is no way they can afford the thousands or millions of dollars in fees and litigation, nor the years or decades of regulatory delays. And the Baptists in this example? The environmentalist lobby and its army of trial lawyers, who have seen to it that housing is restricted to ever smaller slices of California’s otherwise vast reserves of land, at the same time as they’ve successfully promoted building codes that make building a home far more expensive than it would otherwise cost.

Tent of homeless person on 6th Street Bridge with Los Angeles skyline in the background. California, USA. (Photo By: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

California’s homeless crisis is certainly caused in part by unaffordable housing, but it is exacerbated by another type of cronyism, “nonprofit cronyism.” These are rent seeking nonprofits that develop scandalously expensive “permanent supportive housing” for the homeless. In Los Angeles today, apartments for the homeless – palatial abodes by any reasonable comparison to the squalor of living on the streets – are being constructed in some cases for as much as a half-million per unit. The government pays a portion of these costs through grants, using taxpayers money, while other funds are secured through tax deductible donations. And when these units actually are opened to a microscopic fraction of the homeless population, because they are owned and managed by nonprofit corporations, they pay no income or even property taxes.

Crony capitalism in its most obvious form is exemplified by massive public works projects of dubious value to society. California’s grandiose and possibly doomed high speed rail project is the classic example. Even if the final project is restricted to the segment from Merced to Bakersfield, tens of billions will have been spent on a project that never passed any reasonably unbiased cost/benefit analysis, which is why it never attracted matching funds from the private sector.

There are plenty of similar examples. One noteworthy case of a massive, and dubious public work, is the costly rebuild of San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal, which for over 50 years had functioned as the central bus terminal connecting downtown San Francisco with other points in the city as well as routes extending into neighboring counties. In 2010, the terminal was demolished to make way for an expanded, “multi-modal” transit hub for the 21st century. Not only would a new tunnel bring commuter trains into the rebuilt terminal from the existing Caltrain station, 1.3 miles away, but the new terminal would also serve high speed trains.

The probable demise of high speed rail hasn’t diminished enthusiasm for the project which in total is estimated to cost around $10 billion. Yet the design of the station itself, already mostly complete at a cost so far of $2.1 billion, is no longer considered sufficient to handle the projected volume of commuter trains. After eight years of construction, the new terminal opened for bus service in 2018 – essentially performing the same service as the old terminal – and then shut down a few months later because of structural defects. Nobody knows when it will reopen. And even when it does reopen, trains won’t be arriving until the $6 billion connecting tunnel is completed, sometime around 2029.

The enthusiasm that informs persistent supporters of dubious projects, which would certainly include high speed rail and San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center, brings into focus one of the central questions about crony capitalism. How does one distinguish between a project of dubious value, and one of compelling value? Paul Rubin, a professor of economics at Emory University, expresses this question in his own humorous but revealing alternative definition of crony capitalism: “Crony capitalism is lobbying by someone I don’t like for something I don’t like.”

This question of one person’s good cronyism being another person’s bad cronyism is easily recognized in the allocation of subsidies to manufacturers. Ideally, there should be a level playing field between market participants. The government shouldn’t be, as they say, “picking winners.” To choose another obvious example, California’s legislature is determined to increase the number of zero emission vehicles in the state, via rebates, incentives and mandates. The cost to taxpayers – and benefit to manufacturers of electric vehicles – over the next ten years is estimated to range between $9 and $14 billion.

But what if electric cars aren’t an unmitigated good thing, so good they are worthy of subsidies? What if electric vehicles produce illusory environmental benefits? What if the embodied energy in an electric car, far exceeding that of a conventionally powered car, represents an environmental cost that isn’t made up for during its useful, zero emission life? What if the environmental costs of recycling these cars and their massive batteries, or the environmental costs of extracting the resources needed to manufacture these batteries in the first place, represent an unrecoverable environmental cost? What if the emergence of some even better, cleaner transportation technology is being suppressed by the proliferation of subsidized electric cars?

This sort of debate surrounds any subsidized product. And it is fair to say that sometimes subsidies are necessary. But in crony capitalism, those debates are hijacked and skewed by the special interests in the private sector with the strongest connections to government policymakers.

There are myriad forms of crony capitalism. Incentives offered by California’s state and local governments for manufacturers to relocate to California, or stay in California, have cost taxpayers billions. A report published last year in the San Jose Mercury described how public money subsidies have poured hundreds of millions to Silicon Valley giants including Google ($766 million), Facebook ($333 million), Apple ($693 million), and Tesla ($3.5 billion).

These sorts of arrangements repeat themselves across California, and while there is an economic payback to keeping those companies and their jobs in-state, there is also a great irony. California is consistently ranked as the worst state in the U.S. to do business. Why not change the laws and regulations that make California such an unwelcoming place, which would help retain and attract all businesses, instead of pouring compensatory money into the hands of a favored few?

Speaking of the favored few, another problem that consistently accompanies crony capitalism is that it usually benefits the cronies more than it benefits whatever deserving group or cause the deal supposedly supports. The environment and open space is protected – or overprotected – enabling rich developers to get richer, and nobody can afford homes. Palatial “permanent supportive housing” is built for a handful of the homeless, while well heeled nonprofits collect subsidies that could have been used instead to house tens of thousands of homeless using tents and porta-potties. Billions are poured into monumental, landmark, “signature” transportation projects, while ordinary people sit in traffic on pitted, congested, inadequate roads. Taxes are raised so wealthy people can save money on electric cars that remain priced well out of reach of an ordinary Californian. High tech corporations earn hundreds of billions for their shareholders, yet taxpayers support subsidies to keep them from pulling up stakes and moving to Texas.

Finding examples of crony capitalism is an endless task, somewhat shrouded in ambiguity and contradictions. Whenever the government interferes in the “free market,” a subjective assessment is made that the interference is in the public interest, and an even more fraught decision is made to undermine one set of private concerns while creating an advantage for another. Apart from the the impossible extremes of anarchy or communism, good governments have to find that balance in between.

In California’s case, there is a great deal of room for improvement. Support efforts to increase transparency in contract negotiations and contract oversight to expose and deter overt cronyism. Recognize that the impact of environmental regulations has crippled the aspirations of low and middle income Californians, and repeal them, starting with the most extreme. Pay attention to the reports that expose the waste and corruption surrounding attempts to house the homeless. Fight for precedent setting court rulings that will make it easier and less costly to get things done – from building homeless shelters to constructing new roads and related housing infrastructure. Repeal CEQA; there’s plenty of regulation at the federal level. Most of all, make the state’s regulatory climate more inviting so it’s easier to keep and attract all businesses.

Trump Administration Demands California Pay Back Over $2 Billion for Bullet Train

High Speed Rail FresnoThe Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it is exploring “every legal option” to reclaim $2.5 billion in federal funds spent by California on its now-defunct high-speed rail project, and also that it intends to cancel $928 million in federal grants not yet paid for the project to link Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The move was a dramatic escalation in the ongoing war of words and policy between California and the White House. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, declared during his State of the State address last week that he was shelving plans for the $77 billion rail project that had been championed by environmental groups, admitting that “as currently planned, [it] would cost too much and take too long.”

In response to the Trump administration’s legal threat Tuesday, Newsom vowed that he would not sit “idly by” as the White House engaged in what he called “political retribution” against California. …

Click here to read the full article from Fox News

Don’t Derail the Bullet Train Derailment

Gov. Jerry Brown, Anne GustEven before California’s High Speed Rail bond proposal appeared on the ballot in November 2008, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association commissioned a study in conjunction with the Reason Foundation because of deep concerns about the project’s viability. The study, published in September 2008, just prior to the election, confirmed our worst fears. Specifically, the executive summary of the nearly 200-page document warned:

“The CHSRA plans as currently proposed are likely to have very little relationship to what would eventually be built due to questionable ridership projections and cost assumptions, overly optimistic projections of ridership diversion from other modes of transport, insufficient attention to potential speed restrictions and safety issues and discounting of potential community or political opposition. Further, the system’s environmental benefits have been grossly exaggerated, especially with respect to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that have been associated with climate change.”

In the ensuing decade, it became increasingly clear that every negative prediction about the project came to be realized. Even initial advocates of the project, including a former chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority, turned against the costly boondoggle.

The capstone of criticism came at the end of 2018 when California’s own state auditor issued a scathing report excoriating the project’s mismanagement, waste and lack of transparency. To understand just how damning the HSR audit was, just consider the subtitle: “Flawed Decision Making and Poor Contract Management Have Contributed to Billions in Cost Overruns and Delays in the System’s Construction.”

To read the entire column, please click here.

Is Gavin Newsom California’s Denier-in-Chief?

Gavin NewsomCalifornia’s newly elected governor, Gavin Newsom, gave his first “state of the state” address on February 12, and it was a speech more noteworthy for what he didn’t than for what he did mention. Were Newsom’s sins of omission the conscious choice of a seasoned politician, or is he in denial, like so many of his California leftist cohorts?

Before criticizing the content, and the omissions, of Newsom’s speech, it’s necessary to make something clear: Nobody can deny California’s accomplishments; its great universities; its vibrant, diverse industries; its global economic and cultural influence. But California’s accomplishments are in spite of its state government, not because of it. That cannot be emphasized enough.

Newsom began by saying Californians had to make “tough calls” on the issues of transportation, water, energy, migrants, the homeless, healthcare, and the cost-of-living. He proceeded next to make no tough calls.

Forget About Fixing Roads, Let’s Build Half a Bullet-Train

With respect to transportation, Newsom made no mention of California’s crumbling, clogged freeways and connector roads. To be fair to Newsom, when you don’t have to commute day after day during rush hour — and even when you do drive, you have a driver so you can sit in the back seat of a very quiet, very smooth ride, and conduct teleconferences — you don’t really think about “roads” the same way the rest of us do. So understandably, Newsom chose to talk about high speed rail, and even on that topic, he hedged his bets. He proclaimed the project would cost too much and take too long to build a track from Sacramento all the way to San Diego, or even from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Instead he committed to focusing on completing the track from Merced to Bakersfield, where work has already begun.

Is this denial? Or just the out-of-touch priorities of an extremely wealthy man who doesn’t have to drive? Merced? To Bakersfield? Along the entire 163 mile stretch between these two cities, including everyone living in all the five surrounding counties, there are only 2.8 million people. How much will that cost? $10 billion? $20 billion (more likely)? Has Newsom considered how much highway improvement could be done with all that money? For that matter, might we ask the voters of Fresno and Kern counties, as if all that money should be spent there — “would you rather have $20 billion spent on road improvements, or that train?” Or are we afraid of the answer? Does Gavin Newsom understand that even if high-speed rail were built in all its original scope, it would still do virtually nothing to ameliorate California’s transportation challenges, which can only be solved by building new roads and widening existing roads?

Forget About Increasing Water Supply, Let’s Build Half of the “Twin Tunnels”

On the issue of water, Newsom also split the difference on what promises to be California’s second biggest infrastructure money pit after high-speed rail. That would be the two proposed “delta tunnels” that would transport runoff from Northern California, under the Sacramento River Delta, and onward to thirsty farms and cities in arid Southern California. But the governor didn’t call for two tunnels, nor did he kill the project. Like Solomon, Newsom is going to give the “water fix” advocates half of their baby. He wants to build one tunnel.

Newsom correctly stated that demand for water exceeds supply in California, but he was firmly in denial as to the solution, which is to create more supply. For the cost of even just one delta tunnel, massive desalination plants could be constructed on the Southern California coast. Those facilities, combined with runoff capture and sewage reuse projects throughout California’s coastal cities, could make them water independent. Seismic upgrades to levees along with new fish hatcheries could preserve cost-effective, environmentally acceptable movement of northern water to southern customers through the delta, something that’s worked for decades. And more storage via new off-stream reservoirs, aquifer recharge, and raising the Shasta Dam would supply additional millions of acre feet. Instead? A tunnel that will cost at least $20 billion, and add zero water to California’s annual supply.

Never Mind the Shortages We Created, Let’s Invite the World to Migrate Here

California’s politically sacred mission these days, of course, is to invite the migrants of the world to settle here. Newsom didn’t disappoint his crowd, trotting out dubious statistics to prove that undocumented immigration is a “manufactured problem.” But again, Newsom is denying the big picture: If California rolls out the welcome mat for the destitute masses of the world, where does it end? There’s good, accurate data available on this.

More than 800 million people in the world live in extreme poverty — defined as living on less than two dollars per day. What about Latin Americans, who according to Newsom’s equally photogenic counterpart in the U.S. Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), “must be exempt from immigration laws because they are ‘native’ to U.S. lands”? Over 150 million Latin Americans live on less than $4 per day. Hundreds of additional millions of Latin Americans struggle economically. Why not form “caravans” to bring them all here? Newsom, along with the entire California Legislature, will cheer them on and let them in, no matter what the cost.

As it is, currently 2.6 million undocumented immigrants live in California. Even the liberal website politifact.com acknowledges that 55 percent of immigrant households in California benefit from welfare, with their only supposedly debunking caveat being that some of these households have U.S. born children. Other recent studies put the California total as high as 72 percent. There is a cost to Californians for all this, estimated as high as $25 billion per year, so where does Gov. Newsom draw the line? Three million more migrants? Five million? Ten million? One hundred million? Or is he in denial?

And What About Those Politically Created Shortages?

Newsom mentioned “overcrowded classrooms,” and talked about “too much demand, too little supply” for housing. But his solution for education was, what a surprise, more money and “accountability for all public schools, traditional and charters” (a slap at the charter schools, well received based on the applause from the union-controlled audience). Newsom remained in denial as to the real reason California’s public schools are failing, the fact that teaching professionals have been unionized, and the unions have used the dues revenue to exercise nearly absolute control over state and local politicians. Thanks to the teachers union, bipartisan reforms to union work rules (dismissal policies, layoff criteria, lengthened tenure) are watered down or completely squelched, and charter schools are under constant attack.

As the old cornball adage goes, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, Gov. Newsom. Public sector unions destroyed public education in California. Do something about that, if your thousand watt compassionate smile is doing anything more than hiding a vacuous brain, guiding a feckless, morally indifferent human, attracted to nothing more than publicity, power, money, and beautiful women. That’s probably an overly harsh, unfair and inaccurate assessment of the Governor. So maybe he will silence his skeptics, by doing something that takes actual courage. Take on the teachers union. Don’t talk about it. Fight them. Fight them tooth and nail. Fight them on the beaches. Fight them in the streets. Fight them in the hills. Never give up.

Wasn’t Newsom’s campaign slogan “courage for change”? Offer that slogan, but nothing else, to the semi-literate, totally innumerate, thoroughly indoctrinated products of California’s public schools, and see how much good it does. They are the victims of the teachers unions. They need courage from the Governor. Not a pretty face. Not a pretty phrase.

Newsom’s solution for the housing shortage, so far, is to sue cities and counties that won’t build government subsidized “affordable housing.” But “affordable housing” is never affordable, and everyone knows that by now. It’s just a money tree for connected developers. To make homes “affordable” doesn’t have to cost taxpayers a dime. Just deregulate the private housing industry, making it easier to develop land. Then, strip away the overreaching design mandates that turn ordinary homes and apartments into hermetically sealed, stupefyingly expensive, miniature Borg cubes with embedded, connected chips in everything from the toilets to the coffeemaker, festooned with phony “gingerbread” eaves and trim that some marketing department tested with focus groups.

Newsom, to his credit, did mention the need to modify the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), an absurdly intrusive law that is a gold mine for trial lawyers and unions who use it to stop land development in its tracks. But his solution? Turning CEQA reform over to a task force consisting of union officials and large home developers.

Newsflash, Gov. Newsom! Union officials and large home developers won’t benefit from CEQA reform, so they won’t come up with anything useful. They like CEQA just the way it is. Because CEQA is the reason the median home price in California is $547,400. That is an absolutely obscene amount for anyone to have to pay for a home. But it further enriches the billionaire land developers who have the political clout and financial heft to withstand the avalanche of CEQA lawsuits and regulatory hurdles. Who is harmed by CEQA? The average Joe who owns ten acres and knows a building contractor. Those guys can only dream of meaningful CEQA reform. Better yet, they should move to Texas which is still open for business. Or, that is, move to Texas before Gov. Newsom’s other photogenic counterpart, “Beto,” and his gang of Leftists with a twang, manage to turn that state into another California.

Charisma Can’t Make Up for Denial, But Redemption is Possible

On every topic, Newsom’s theme was at least consistent. Let’s be tough, let’s be honest, let’s do our duty to ALL Californians. But he wasn’t tough, and he wasn’t honestly choosing the right questions to ask, so it’s hard to see how he was doing his duty to all Californians. And for a man leading the biggest state in the United States, who could very well end up being inaugurated as the next U.S. President in January 2024, we need more. Much more. Here are three topics of bipartisan urgency that Newsom should have, but didn’t touch.

He didn’t talk about how on the next economic downturn, state and local public employee pensions are poised to bankrupt half of California’s cities and counties and totally blow up the state budget.

He didn’t talk about how California’s public employee unions have formed a coalition with extreme environmentalists and Leftist billionaires to stop all development of land and energy in order to create an asset bubble that benefits public coffers and private investments while screwing everyone else.

He didn’t talk about how, even if you believe all the alarmist hyperbole regarding climate change, you can’t possibly go “carbon free” without more hydro-electric and nuclear power.

Newsom’s mannerisms might remind one of Chris Collinsworth, a tall and well-liked sportscaster who talks with a perpetual smile on his face. But Newsom isn’t a sportscaster. He’s presiding over a state — with 40 million people and “the fifth largest economy on earth” — that has been taken over by a gang of money grubbing, power-mad, opportunistic, platitude-spewing con artists.

If Newsom’s intentions are half as benevolent as that compassionate smile of his tells us they are, and if his “courage for change” is sincere, then here’s another way he can redeem himself in the eyes of his skeptics. He can live the life that his political comrades have imposed on California’s hardest working residents. Instead of moving into a 12,000-square-foot mansion, located on an eight acre compound in one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in Sacramento County, Newsom should move his family into one of those California median priced $547,400 homes, situated on a 3,200 square foot lot, surrounded by other homes on 3,200-square-foot lots, and send his four children to a public school.

Redemption is good for the soul, so there’s more: for Newsom to fully live the California dream, and prove he cares about “ALL Californians,” he should give his personal wealth away to charity — or better yet, send it to the CalPERS public employee pension fund because they’re going after every dime they can get their hands on. Then, Newsom should cut his governor’s pay to $71,805, which is California’s median household income, and refuse all outside honorariums and fees. And he should do this not for two weeks to make a statement, or even for the next four years. He should do this for the rest of his life.

He would be in denial no longer.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Trump demands $3.5 billion back from ‘disaster’ high-speed rail project

donald-trump-2President Donald Trump is demanding California return billions of dollars to the federal government following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to scale down the state’s costly high-speed rail project.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump called the project a “’green disaster.’”

California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars,” Trump added. “They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now.”

Newsom at his State of the State Address on Tuesday put the brakes on the $77 billion high speed project, an endeavor that voters authorized at the ballot box in 2008 with a plan to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco. …

Click here to read the full article from the Mercury News

Gov. Newsom Downgrades Bullet Train and Delta Tunnel Plans

High speed rail constructionWhen Gavin Newsom was running for governor last year, he adopted “courage for a change” as his slogan.

It could be – and was – interpreted two ways: that he wanted to change the direction of California, or that he was disparaging outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown’s reluctance to confront the state’s pithiest issues.

Newsom seemingly embraced both versions Tuesday in his first State of the State address, a very long and detailed laundry list of the state’s ills and how he intends to deal with them that directly and indirectly refuted Brown.

Most starkly, Newsom downgraded two of his predecessor’s pet legacy projects, twin tunnels to carry water beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and a statewide bullet train system.

He rejected WaterFix, as it’s been dubbed, and instead offered support for one tunnel while seeking compromise among California’s perpetually warring water factions. However, shrinking the project would require starting over on many years of planning twin tunnels, thus giving opponents of diverting water from the Delta new opportunities to kill it. Moreover, it’s questionable whether lowering the project’s capacity would make it pencil out for its sponsors, principally Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District.

Newsom also hit the pause button for compelling farmers south of the Delta to cede more water by calling for a compromise agreement and changing the chairmanship of the State Water Resources Control Board, whose water diversion plans had angered farmers.

The bullet train project fared even worse in Newsom’s declaration that “as currently planned (it) would cost too much and take too long.”

Casting aside Brown’s obvious love for a statewide system linking Sacramento and San Francisco in the north to Los Angeles and San Diego in the south, Newsom called for completing just the roughly 100-mile-long initial San Joaquin Valley segment, from Merced to near Bakersfield, and making it a high-speed system.

However, electrifying the track now under construction and buying high-speed trains to run on it would be an enormously expensive gesture for such short service. More likely, the stretch of track, when completed, will be folded into the region’s existing Amtrak service.

Newsom’s declarations on the water tunnels and the bullet train were the biggest nuggets of news in his speech, most of which was devoted to issues he had raised in the campaign, in his inaugural address and in his first budget.

He hit all the big bullet points, from California’s housing crisis to the increasing threat of wildfires and the bankruptcy of utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric, and pronounced that all could be solved by collaboration and new thinking. And, of course, he took the obligatory potshots that the governor of a deep blue state is expected to take at President Donald Trump, particularly on Trump’s insistence on building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The border ‘emergency’ is a manufactured crisis,” Newsom declared – quite accurately. “And California will not be part of this political theater.”

A day earlier, he had announced that he would withdraw most of the National Guard troops that Brown, albeit reluctantly, had committed to guarding the border.

All in all, Newsom set an ambitious agenda for his governorship, the sort of multi-point plan that Brown had often denigrated. And in doing so, the new governor set a high mark for his political future.

Achieving all he seeks would propel him into White House contention sometime after 2020. Failing, for whatever reason, would make him a footnote in California’s political history.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

California to pull plug on billion-dollar bullet train

High Speed Rail ConstructionCalifornia Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Tuesday he is pulling the plug on the state’s massive high-speed rail project from Los Angeles to San Francisco that was more than a decade behind schedule and billions in the red.

“Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”

Newsom added that while California has “the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield,” “there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.”

The embattled $77-billion bullet train has been an embarrassment for the Golden State and has been plagued by problems almost from the start.

The idea, long championed by Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, is years behind schedule with the latest estimate for completion set for 2033. …

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Gov. Newsom Will Face Intense Questioning on Bullet Train

High Speed RailWhen Gavin Newsom is sworn in as California governor on Jan. 7, he’s already indicated he will take criticisms of the state’s troubled $77 billion high-speed rail project seriously.

That’s in sharp contrast to outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown, who described project critics as “declinists” with no vision for what the Golden State could become. Brown only offered vague pronouncements when asked about giant cost overruns and the $50 billion or more gap between available funding and what’s needed to build the high-speed rail linking Los Angeles and San Francisco.

If Newsom lives up to his word, he’s going to need to respond to profound issues raised by project watchers in and out of the state government over the last two months.

In November, state Auditor Elaine Howle issued a harsh report on poor management practices in the California High-Speed Rail Authority, especially the billions in cost overruns due to the decision to launch construction of the project’s $10.6 billion, 119-mile first segment in the Central Valley before the authority was fully ready. Howle’s audit led Newsom to tell a Fresno audience that he might shake up the leadership of the rail authority.

Among the few specifically positive observations that Newsom has made in recent months about the project was that the first segment held promise to link Silicon Valley workers with less expensive housing in the Central Valley.

Project seen as ‘notoriously unpopular’ in Central Valley

But a Dec. 23 Sacramento Bee analysis found that even though the bullet train project was generating thousands of jobs in the agricultural region, it was “notoriously unpopular” among residents.

“They resent how construction has carved up their farms and scrambled their highways,” the Bee reported. “Completion of just a partial segment through the Valley is still years away, and residents doubt the project will ever get finished. They question the promises that high-speed rail will lift the Valley out of its economic doldrums.”

This skepticism is increasingly shared by elected Democrats both in the Central Valley and the rest of the state.

A Dec. 28 Los Angeles Times report quoted Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon as saying problems with the bullet train are so widespread that it should “be paused for a reassessment.” Rendon said the prospect that the project would run out of money before ever reaching the Los Angeles region left voters in the area feeling deceived.

Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, has made clear that he will work to have rail authority chairman Dan Richard ousted because of cost overruns and management issues.

The bullet train’s image has also deteriorated among state pundits.

When California voters approved $9.95 billion in bond seed money for the then-$45 billion project in 2008, the ballot initiative was broadly supported by newspaper editorial boards.

“Americans who visit Japan or Europe and hop a bullet train get a stunning reminder of how far behind much of the industrialized world we are in swift, clean, efficient transportation,” the San Jose Mercury-News editorial page declared on Oct. 18, 2008. “Californians can change that by approving Proposition 1A, a bond to begin construction of a high-speed rail system that would whisk passengers from Los Angeles to the Bay Area through downtown San Jose in a mere 2 1/2 hours. It will be a catalyst for the economic growth of California and this region over the next 100 years.”

An editorial printed last month in the Mercury-News showed a 180-degree swing in opinion: “The incompetence and irresponsibility at the California High-Speed Rail Authority are staggering. … It’s time to end this fiasco to stop throwing good money after bad.”

Decision on cap-and-trade funding may signal Newsom’s intentions

An early sign of Newsom’s level of enthusiasm for continuing on Brown’s path is likely in coming weeks as initial work is done on the 2019-20 state budget. The California Air Resources Board reported pulling in $813 million from its Nov. 14 auction of cap-and-trade air pollution credits – a heavy haul.

If Newsom opposes diverting 25 percent of cap-and-trade revenue to the bullet-train project – as has been done since 2015 – that will be the clearest indication yet that he is ready to back away from the troubled project.

Gavin Newsom Inherits California’s Troubled Bullet Train Project

High Speed Rail ConstructionGov. Jerry Brown has devoted half a century of political knowledge and power to advance the California bullet train construction project, but he leaves office with its future badly damaged by cost overruns, mismanagement and delays.

It hands incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom a tough decision: delay indefinitely the goal of a statewide bullet train system and salvage something useful out of the billions of dollars already spent, or stick with the original vision and find at least $50 billion in new money to keep it going.

Either option will probably lead to a clash between the project’s die-hard supporters and its skeptics. Almost every major engineering and construction firm has a big stake in the project, as do unions, small businesses and city governments. The outcome will depend on how much fiscal pain and risk Democrats are willing to accept.

So far, Newsom has only hinted at what he will do, saying at times the effort must continue in some form — though with less gusto than Brown exhibited as he championed what has grown into the nation’s largest infrastructure effort over the last eight years. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Times