Bullet Train is Colliding with Reality

High speed rail constructionReality may finally be catching up with the vision – or pipedream – of a 200-mile-per-hour train connecting California’s northern and southern regions.

A few weeks ago, the High-Speed Rail Authority released its latest “business plan” that was supposed to tell Californians how the brief stretch of track now being constructed in the San Joaquin Valley can grow into a system stretching from San Francisco and Sacramento in the north to Los Angeles and San Diego in the south.

While the latest version of the plan, drafted by the latest of several management teams, appears to be more realistic about cost and construction schedules than its predecessors, it’s still sorely deficient, as its official reviewers pointed out last week during a legislative hearing.

After a decade-plus of cogitation, they said, the state still doesn’t have a complete scenario for raising the tens of billions of dollars it would take to extend the San Joaquin section into the San Francisco Bay Area via San Jose and southward to Los Angeles.

The plan suggests that the northward extension, which is the first priority, might be built with a bond issue backed by the project’s dedicated share of revenues from the state’s “cap-and-trade” auctions of greenhouse gas emission allowances.

And then, it continues, there would be an operable segment that would generate revenues from riders that could be used to finance the southward extension.

However, the plan contains caveats for the scheme to work, such as extending cap-and-trade from its current end date, 2030, to 2050, and offering lenders some guarantees to back up the notoriously volatile emission auctions.

The reviewers look somewhat askance at such a scheme.

Louis Thompson, one of the nation’s top rail system experts who chairs the project’s official “peer review” committee, sees “little prospect” that fares from the first extension could finance the second. He told legislators that the project, a favorite of Gov. Jerry Brown, is “at a critical point when difficult decisions need to be made,” and cited the need for a “credible long-term plan to finance the system.”

The Legislature’s budget analyst offered a similarly skeptical view of the business plan in its review.

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor’s staff said there are multiple “issues” such as potentially higher costs than the current $77.3 billion estimate (twice what voters were told in 2008 when they passed a $9.95 billion bond issue), “significant uncertainties” about the bond issue proposal and finally, the lack of a “complete funding plan.”

The review concluded, “It is crucial for the high-speed rail project to have a complete and viable funding plan (and) at this time, no such funding plan exists.

There’s probably enough money to complete the 119-mile San Joaquin Valley stretch, which can be used for Amtrak service, and money is being spent to improve commuter service both in the Bay Area and in Southern California.

After that, the finances are very dicey, and it would be foolhardy to begin any extension without, as the business plan analysts say, a complete and viable financing plan. And if such a plan can’t be produced, we should call it quits on a project that was never grounded in reality.

olumnist for CALmatters

California On Verge of Second Massive Boondoggle

Gov. Jerry Brown, Anne Gust“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” That was the catchphrase of J. Wellington Wimpy, simply known as just “Wimpy” on the “Popeye” cartoon show. For good reason, the proprietor of the diner rejected Wimpy’s request because of his reputation for not paying on Tuesday.

The inability to repay one’s debts can come with severe consequences, as anyone who has borrowed money from a loan shark can attest. California, despite record revenue coming into the state treasury, has a real problem with debt. High on that list, of course, is the state’s multi-billion-dollar unfunded liabilities for its pension obligations. But we have a problem with bond debt as well.

State-issued bonds can be a legitimate method to finance public projects that have a long useful life. But key to bond financing is a clear and predictable plan to repay those bonds.

California is now on the verge of adopting a second massive boondoggle plagued with financing issues. We are all familiar with the notorious high-speed rail project that was sold to voters as a safe and economical alternative to air travel between Northern and Southern California. A third of the money was to come from the private sector, a third from the feds and the rest from the sale of Proposition 1A bonds. All three of those revenue sources have disappeared in a puff of smoke and, instead, the HSR project is kept on life support through “cap-and-trade” revenue that didn’t even exist when voters approved the original bond.

The second mega-project destined to adopt the boondoggle label is Gov. Jerry Brown’s “twin tunnels” project, intended to transport water from the Sacramento River to the pumping stations at the south end of the delta. Bear in mind that the project will not provide a new water source but would be built ostensibly for environmental reasons.

However, like the high-speed rail project, the financing for the twin tunnels is illusory. Virtually all the potential major wholesale customers of water from the twin tunnels are highly skeptical of its viability and balk at paying for it. The one exception is the Metropolitan Water District in the greater L.A. area, which is considering the adoption of a plan to finance a scaled-down version of the project — meaning one tunnel instead of two.

To read the entire column, please click here.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

High-Speed Rail Losing Business Support

High Speed Rail FresnoDo you know what really was deflating when California’s High-Speed Rail Authority issued its latest report a few weeks ago?

It wasn’t the revelation that the cost of building the bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco is going up by billions of dollars. (Again.) And it wasn’t that construction will be delayed. (Again.) Everybody knows those setbacks will happen with any big project, particularly a government one.

No, what was truly disheartening was the disclosure that the high-speed train will have to slow down on another stretch of track. That now makes three places along the proposed route where the train will be forced to throttle back to half speed. And you know, you just know – much like the expanding costs and the lengthening construction timetable – there’ll be more disclosures in future years about how the train will “need” to slow down on this stretch of track or that one to save money (the latest slow stretch will save $1.7 billion) or to make a stop in some politically connected town. Our high-speed train is devolving into a commuter express.

Here’s why that’s so disappointing: It pretty much kills the argument that the train will be attractive for business travelers.

Why? Because business folks, as you know, care less about price and much more about speed. And increasingly – or should we say “decreasingly” – the velocity of the so-called high-speed train is being compromised. The rail authority was supposed to build a system to get a train from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes. But a good article in the Los Angeles Times last month pointed out that outside experts said it is improbable that such a time could ever be met, and even the rail authority says the fastest trip would be 3 ½ hours but a train with more stops could take 4 hours and 5 minutes. Truth be told, 4 hours is probably optimistic.

So, let’s say you’re a busy business person and you need to make a quick trip to San Francisco. Assume you leave home 1 ½ hours ahead of your departure and you take your trip by rail. Let’s give the rail authority the benefit of the doubt and say it’ll take 3 ½ hours. That gets you to a train station in San Francisco in 5 hours.

Now look at the train’s competition: airplanes. Let’s say you leave home 2 ½ hours ahead of your flight to allow extra time for the airport congestion, security screening, etc. Add the 1 ½ hour flight, and you’re in the airport in San Francisco in four hours.

The airplane wins by an hour each way; two hours round trip. That extra two hours will make for a longer day; it might be enough to force you to make a two-day trip instead of a one-day one.

Making the train less appealing to business travelers is important because the high-speed rail was already shaping up as unattractive to tourists. As you know, casual travelers are more sensitive to price, and high-speed rail will likely be no bargain.

Although train fares are not set, one published report suggested a round-trip ticket may cost $115. If true, that would be $460 for a family of four. Throw in transportation to the train station along with the cost of renting a car or taking multiple Uber trips in San Francisco, and you’re easily in the $600 range.

Compare that to the cost of taking your car, which is the train’s main competition for the tourist dollar. If you wanted to drive your brood, you’re looking at about $100 in gasoline for a round trip. Throw in parking costs of $150 or so, and you’re up to about $250.

The car wins by $350.

In short, the high-speed train probably would never be big with tourists, and the latest news makes it less attractive to busy business folks. It’s hard to see how the high-speed rail, if built, would be much more than a novelty that a few people will find convenient, but most will use only occasionally.

The high-speed rail has slowly lost its many enthusiastic supporters over the years, mainly because of the rising costs. But now, as the speed of the train keeps slowing, it seems destined to lose the business traveler, too.

ditor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Jerry Brown’s Rail Fantasy Keeps Getting Pricier

High Speed Rail Fresno“That’s bulls**t,” Gov. Jerry Brown told a group of union leaders in Sacramento this week as he addressed the latest bad news about his pet project to build a bullet train connecting San Francisco with Los Angeles. The union folks probably loved the tirade, given that the proposed rail system is more of a make-work project for union members than a transportation system. But the governor’s promise that the state can build the railway if “we don’t let these small-minded people intimidate us into lowering our expectations” rang a bit hollow.

Brown said he is “so tired of all the nonsense that I read in the paper and you hear from other politicians.” But the latest nonsense comes from his own High-Speed Rail Authority, which released its latest business plan. The project already is over budget and behind schedule. The new plan bumps the predicted costs from $63 billion to $77 billion — and delays the opening date by four years, to 2033.

Those costs will surely grow even more given that the current overruns are taking place on the flat, easy-to-build section of the system through the Central Valley. Just wait until the real engineering challenge is confronted, as rail planners figure out how to take the train through the Tehachapi Mountains separating the valley from Southern California.

Look at other major California infrastructure projects for an idea of realistic cost overruns. Rebuilding the eastern span of the Bay Bridge, following the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, was 2,500 percent (that’s not a typo) over the original estimate and wasn’t completed until 2013.

Apparently, it’s “small minded” for Californians — including one of the authors of the 2008 statewide initiative that secured $9.95 billion in funding for the train project — to question the overruns, delays, and failure of the latest plan to live up to the promises made to voters. That author, former Sen. Quentin Kopp, remains an advocate of high-speed rail in concept, but he calls the current alignment “foolish” and said “it is almost a crime to sell bonds and encumber the taxpayers of California at a time when this is no longer high-speed rail.”

Kopp is right. To make it feasible, rail boosters created a route alignment that shares tracks with commuter trains (the blended route) on the peninsula south of San Francisco and in the Los Angeles area. It’s highly unlikely that it will connect the state’s two megalopolises anywhere near the promised time of 2 hours and 40 minutes given how slow the trains will go in these areas.

It’s magical thinking to expect the project to do that as 2008’s Proposition 1A promised – with no operating subsidies and at an affordable price funded by private investment. Investors have run for the hills and the subsidies are a given. And why is this project even needed? I just took a Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles for under $100 roundtrip (on a special deal, which you can regularly find) with a flying time of a little more than an hour. It’s not as if Californians have no options to travel up and down the state.

The project has been unable to tap federal funds now that the Obama administration, which supported the project, is history. The initial bond funding is a pittance of the project’s estimated total cost. The auctions of cap-and-trade credits are another funding source, but even the Democratic-controlled Legislature is reluctant to open up those spigots given its other priorities.

But Brown has a plan: “I’ll tell you how we’re going to fund the railroad. We’re going to take back the Congress and then a Democratic Congress is going to put the high-speed rail in the infrastructure bill and then we’ll get that trillion dollars and we’ll put America back to work.” That’s far from a certainty — and it’s a bizarre way to plan for a major investment. Let’s just start building and hope that the political winds change and a new Congress will dole out the money. OK, I guess.

That approach is reminiscent of the one detailed by flamboyant former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. In a July 2013 San Francisco Chronicle column addressing $300 million in cost overruns for the city’s Transbay Terminal, he argued, “If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

The bullet-train project epitomizes such public-sector cynicism. Proposition 1A offered myriad detailed promises to woo skeptical voters. A superior court initially halted the sale of the bond funds to begin digging the hole, so to speak, because the authority wasn’t following requirements that it identify enough cash to complete the first 300-mile segment. Unfortunately, a higher court ultimately gave the project the go-ahead. That shouldn’t be a shock to Spectator readers, who are used to hearing the absurd promises made by politicians. But voter initiatives are written laws, not suggestions.

In recent months, the governor’s other large infrastructure boondoggle has also run into trouble. Brown wants to build two giant 35-mile tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to bring water from the relatively rainy north to arid Southern California. It’s a way to keep water flowing even when the state shuts the pumps to protect the endangered Delta smelt.

“The $17-billion bill for the twin-tunnel version was supposed to be paid by the San Joaquin Valley agricultural districts and Southland urban agencies,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “But the farm districts have for the most part declined to open their wallets, saying the water is too expensive for them.” Not all of the urban agencies are all that excited about paying for it, either.

These projects are unfathomable given that Brown last year insisted that Californians raise gas taxes — or else their roads and bridges will continue to crumble. As Brown leaves the public stage after decades of elected office, he is reduced to hurling insults at Californians who make perfectly reasonable criticisms of costly projects that divert money from far more pressing priorities. In my view, that’s very definition of small-minded BS.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This article was originally published by the American Spectator

New Bullet Train Woes Cause Fresh Headaches for Democrat Gubernatorial Candidates

High speed rail constructionThe March 9 release of the first updated business plan in two years for the state’s high-speed rail project could sharply intensify the pressure on Democratic gubernatorial candidates who back the project to explain their support.

The Republican candidates – Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach and Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox – reflect the GOP consensus that the project is a boondoggle that’s unlikely to ever be completed. But the major Democratic hopefuls – Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Treasurer John Chiang and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin – have all indicated they would continue with rail project, albeit with little of the enthusiasm shown by present Gov. Jerry Brown.

While the new business plan was depicted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s new CEO, Brian Kelly, as a constructive step toward salvaging the project, the plan’s key details were daunting:

The estimated cost of the project, which has yo-yoed from $34 billion to $98 billion to $64 billion, changed once again. The business plan abandoned the previous $64 billion estimate for an estimate of $77 billion – accompanied by a warning that the cost could go as high as $98 billion.

Even at the lower price tag, the state didn’t have adequate funds to complete a first $20 billion-plus bullet-train segment linking populated areas. The present plan for a Central Valley route has an eastern terminus in a remote agricultural fieldnorth of Shafter. That’s because the $9.95 billion in bond seed money that state voters provided in 2008 has only been buttressed to a relatively slight degree by additional public dollars from cap-and-trade pollution permits.

The business plan cites the possibility of additional federal funds beyond the $3.3 billion allocated by Washington early in the Obama administration. It doesn’t note, however, that domestic discretionary spending has plunged in recent years amid congressional concern about the national debt blowing past $20 trillion.

The business plan also promotes the possibility of outside investors. It doesn’t mention that such investors have passed on the project for years because state law bars the California High-Speed Rail Authority from offering them a revenue or ridership guarantee.

From 5 years behind schedule to 10 years behind

The initial operation of a bullet-train link serving California residents went from five years behind schedule, in the estimate of the Los Angeles Times, to 10 years behind schedule. The business plan said the project would begin operations no sooner than 2029.

The potential immense cost overrun of the bullet train segment in the mountains north of Los Angeles was fully acknowledged for the first time. A 2015 Times story laid out the “monumental” challenge.

Democratic candidates to succeed Brown have chosen to focus on housing, single-payer health care, immigration and criticism of President Donald Trump in most early forums and campaign appearances. But front-runners Newsom and Villaraigosa in particular seem likely to be pressed on how they can square their claims to be experienced, tough-minded managers with support for a project which seems less likely to be completed with every passing year.

Proposition 70 on the June primary ballot also will keep the bullet train on the campaign’s front burner, to some extent. It was placed on the ballot as part of a 2017 deal cut by the governor to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program until 2030. If Proposition 70 passed, it would require a one-off vote in 2024 in which cap-and-trade proceeds could only be used for specific needs with two-thirds support of each house of the Legislature. Republicans may be able to use these votes to shut off the last ongoing source of new revenue for the high-speed rail project.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Caltrain in Desperate Need of a State Audit

CalTrainThe State Legislature recently approved on a bipartisan basis, an Audit of the High Speed Rail Authority. The Legislature also needs to authorize an audit of Caltrain, the Bay Area commuter line.

Caltrain is exhibiting extreme incompetence and has wasted millions of dollars of public funds. If ever a public agency needs to face an audit, it is Caltrain.

Nobody wants Caltrain to fail. Caltrain provides a valuable commuting option to jobs, for workers on the peninsula. Recent events certainly would lead one to forecast that failure is where Caltrain is now headed.

At the Caltrain board meeting (3/1/2018), Caltrain authorized a new contract which they hope will salvage the Positive Train Control (CBOSS) disaster. It is truly amazing how Caltrain has managed to make so many bad decisions to implement this Federally mandated project.

For many years, Caltrain has been warned that CBOSS was headed in the wrong direction. A record documenting this history can be found in the blog of Clem Tillier.

Clem has for years been campaigning for a reset on CBOSS pointing out repeatedly its problems and forecasting its demise.

The signing by Caltrain of a new contract with a different vendor at this meeting to implement a new PTC project, finally after years of delay and incompetence, kills CBOSS as previously envisioned.

Clem predicts the cost in wasted dollars will be $150 million; I suspect the final bill will be much higher. Numerous delays have been involved; it is now quite possible that Caltrain may have to stop service at the end of this year, because Caltrain will not be able to meet the Federally mandated deadline that PTC be operational on its tracks by then.

The Staff report on the project and discussion took over 1 hour. How staff can deliver such a presentation and not really admit any fault of Caltrain in the CBOSS failure, but blame it on others, is amazing.

(It should be noted in comparison, that MetroLink down south, with over 500 miles of tracks, implemented PTC by 2016 at a final cost of around $200 million. Caltrain has failed thus far with implementation of PTC and will have spent at least $350 million. This is for only 50 miles of track)

Caltrain is now starting on an over $2 billion electrification project. The cost has doubled in the last 3 years and continues to balloon. It has just been announced another over $200 million escalation in cost to procure more EMUs)

With this past history, how can the public have any confidence that Electrification will succeed and provide the service they claim? Caltrain recently pushed the timeline for completion, out from 2020 to 2022.

Current CEO Jim Hartnett was a political appointment to lead Caltrain. Hartnett’s background, is he was an ex-Mayor of Redwood City. He possessed none of the required qualifications in experience or education involving rail operations that were deemed necessary during the search to replace the former CEO, Scanlon. Hartnett’s compensation of over $500,000 annually is grossly excessive when compared to other rail or transportation executive positions.

State Senator Jerry Hill is leading an effort for a sales tax ballot measure shortly to provide a subsidy of around $100 million annually, for Caltrain’s operations. The recent history of Caltrain’s operations should lead the voters to say NO to such a measure? Changes at Caltrain need to be made.

A State audit of Caltrain and its operation, by the non-partisan State Auditor, is sorely needed.

Founder of DERAIL, The original Grass Roots group opposing the High Speed Rail project.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California bullet train plan to show higher cost, timeline

California’s bullet train project will likely require more time and money to complete than last estimated, but its new chief executive is promising more transparency with the public about its challenges.

“It’s going to be bumpy,” said Brian Kelly, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. “What’s important to me is you hear that from us.”

The rail authority on Friday will release its latest business plan, a biennial snapshot of building timelines, cost estimates and other critical details about the ambitious plan to transport people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in under three hours.

It will be the first plan since Kelly took over the project in February after leading the state’s transportation agency and comes on the heels of a nearly $3 billion cost increase on a segment of track underway in the Central Valley and repeated delays.

The last plan put the estimated cost at $64 billion, with a train running between the two major cities by 2029. …

Click here to read the full article from the Union Democrat

High-speed rail is the best reason to repeal the gas and car tax hike

High speed rail constructionWould you trust a surgeon who has a history of amputating the wrong limb? Of course not. For the same reason, California taxpayers should not trust our state politicians with more transportation dollars. Let’s get one thing clear from the outset. Any spending on the California high-speed rail project is, by definition, transportation spending. Therefore, any discussion about the wisdom of repealing the gas tax cannot ignore what the state of California has done with its “showcase” transportation project.

The complete dysfunction of HSR is no longer in dispute.

The latest development is the failure of the HSR authority to issue its revised business plan to the California Legislature as required by law. Its excuse? The authority is in the midst of hiring staff so it can’t issue a timely report. Besides being a complete non sequitur, one would think that the hiring of additional staff would be a reason to issue a report as soon as possible.

Moreover, this latest shortcoming is consistent with the authority’s continued aversion to transparency. Just last month, Republican legislators called for an emergency audit when it became evident that just the Central Valley segment of the project was $1.7 billion over budget. While that request was denied, this week Democratic legislator Jim Beall joined with Republicans seeking a comprehensive audit when it was revealed that the Central Valley segment was actually a stunning $2.8 billion over budget.

Many who originally supported the high-speed rail project have had a dramatic change of heart. Quentin Kopp, a former state senator and High Speed Rail Authority chairman, is now vigorously opposed, noting that “this is not what the voters approved.” Likewise, the San Jose Mercury News this week ran an editorial entitled, “Stop the California Bullet Train in its Tracks.”

The foolishness of the project is especially evident when considering that one of its main purposes was the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, that justification is why the project is currently being funded almost exclusively by “cap-and-trade” funds that are generated by the sale of “carbon credits,” a hidden tax on energy.

But ironically, even the respected, nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office notes that the project is a net greenhouse gas producer. If the state of California were more serious about GHG emissions, it would direct those funds into more traditional transportation projects including road improvements and lane capacity. Stopped traffic produces more pollution than traffic that moves.

Despite the higher gas and car taxes that drivers have been paying since November, a new report by the State Auditor says transportation infrastructure remains one of the “high risk” issues facing California. Why? Because of uncertainty about the “effective and efficient use” of the money collected from the tax hikes.

In short, our current political leadership, which jammed the massive car and gas tax increase down our throats without a vote of the people, has no credibility whatsoever as acceptable stewards of transportation dollars. And as long the high-speed rail project continues, they never will.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

Ten Questions for Jerry Brown

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 27: California Governor Jerry Brown announces his public employee pension reform plan October 27, 2011 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California. Gov. Brown proposed 12 major reforms for state and local pension systems that he claims would end abuses and reduce taypayer costs by billions of dollars. (Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

Tomorrow, Jerry Brown will deliver his 15th and final State of the State Address. It’s too bad California legislators can’t ask questions like our counterparts in the United Kingdom, who query their head of government during “Prime Minister’s Questions.” If we could, here are 10 questions I’d ask Governor Brown:

1.)     You recently chided Congress, “It’s never good to have one party vote one way, and the other party vote 100 percent the other way. That’s dividing America at a time when we need unity.” Does this mean you’ll no longer sign legislation that is supported by only one party in the Assembly, as you did with the Gas Tax and 20 other bills last year?

2.)     For children living in poverty, California is the worst place in America to get an education, ranking near the bottom for every academic performance measure. Your education plan has added almost $30 billion in yearly spending, yet our schools have if anything gotten worse at educating poor children. How do you explain this?

3.)     Shortly after taking office, you called reforming the much-abused California Environmental Quality Act “the Lord’s work.” Yet no CEQA reform has happened during your tenure even as the cost of housing has soared to the point that 1 out of 3 Californians is “seriously considering” leaving the state because of it. With less than one year left in your term, when is the Lord’s work going to begin?

4.)     While campaigning for Governor, you promised you would not raise taxes without voter approval. Yet last year you signed a $52 billion tax increase without giving voters a say – and now, you’re opposing an effort by voters to undo that tax hike. How should ordinary Californians respond when elected officials break their promises?

5.)     In California, the cost of building a mile of road is triple what it is in other states. One reason, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst, is that Caltrans is overstaffed by 3,500 positions. Yet you are proposing 400 new positions in this year’s budget. Why not learn from other states that build better and cheaper roads before making Californians pay higher taxes?

6.)     Under your watch, California’s unfunded pension liability has grown by over 100 billion, with public employees generally receiving greater benefits than workers in the private sector. You clearly recognize this as a problem, having just filed a commendable opening brief in what could be a landmark state supreme court case. So why did you allow this problem, which threatens vital services and future generations, to get so much worse?

7.)     You claim California is prosperous because it is the world’s “6th largest economy.” Yet adjusting for cost of living and population size, our economy actually ranks 37 out of 50 states in the country. Which statistic do you think more accurately reflects the well-being of ordinary Californians?

8.)     Since you became Governor, the State Budget has grown from $129 billion to $191 billion. What evidence can you point to that this new spending has improved the quality of life for ordinary Californians? Feel free to cite, for example, health outcomes, student achievement, housing affordability, infrastructure quality, workforce participation, poverty rates, family stability, or any other metric.

9.)     The projected cost of High Speed Rail now exceeds $67 billion, with new delays and cost overruns reported almost monthly. And many are doubting the bullet train will have any useful purpose. In the words of Elon Musk, “The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it?” Why would anyone?

10.)     You recently accused others of “ripping the country apart” through partisan actions. Yet in the last few months you’ve called your political opponents “mafia thugs,” “political terrorists,” and “evil in the extreme.” Is this rhetoric bringing the country together?

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley represents the 6th Assembly District, which includes parts of El Dorado, Placer, and Sacramento counties.

This blog post was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California’s Infrastructure Boondoggles Continue

High speed rail constructionEvery news story about the bullet train seems to be accompanied by a photo of workers building a viaduct in Fresno County.

This does nothing to dispel the impression that high-speed rail in California is actually a Marx Brothers movie.

Groucho: Over here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.

Chico: Why a duck?

Groucho: I say that’s a viaduct.

Chico: All right, why a duck? Why a duck? Why not a chicken?

The latest news from the Marx Brothers is that the 119-mile Central Valley section currently under construction is $2.8 billion over budget.

That brings the estimated cost of the first phase to $10.6 billion and the cost of the entire project to at least $67 billion. Voters were told in 2008 that the high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles would be completed for $40 billion, but more than a quarter of that money is gone and it’s not out of Fresno yet.

The train may not be going anywhere, but the project’s chief executive moved on in June, shortly after promising that there was no truth to a leaked federal report warning that the train was on track for cost overruns of more than $2 billion.

The new CEO, at a salary of nearly $385,000, is Gov. Jerry Brown’s transportation secretary, Brian Kelly. He says part of his job will be to “restore credibility” to the high-speed rail project, which would be a startling break with tradition.

Part of the problem in the Central Valley, the rail authority now says, is that construction began before all the land was acquired. This decision, which HSR executives promised not to repeat, was made because federal funds would have been lost if a deadline for the start of construction was missed.

That turned the negotiations for land into a W.C. Fields movie, “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”

The federal deadline for starting construction was just one of many safeguards that were put in place to try to prevent the rail authority from wasting billions of dollars on a half-finished train to nowhere. Sadly, Gov. Jerry Brown and the HSR authority found ways around all of them.

Another questionable infrastructure proposal from the Brown administration, the so-called California WaterFix, is also running into budget difficulties.

The original plan called for spending $17 billion to construct two huge tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The idea was to get around the restrictions on pumping water from the delta to the Central Valley and Southern California, restrictions that have cut the flow of water in half since the 1980s.

The pumping restrictions resulted from lawsuits and settlements to protect declining populations of smelt and salmon, forcing another population — the people of California — to pay more for water, and for everything that’s produced with water, like food. Now billions will be spent to capture and clean up stormwater and groundwater, which wouldn’t be needed if California’s state and federal water projects hadn’t been shut down to protect the cast of “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.”

Some water districts refused to pay for the twin-tunnel project, so the Brown administration may downsize California WaterFix to one tunnel. It would still cost billions of dollars, but proponents would like you to know that none of the money will come from taxpayers. The whole thing will be billed to water users.

Californians who want to save money should take W.C. Fields’ advice: Never drink water.

olumnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”