Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Big Public Support for Proposition 1

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Recent polling data from J. Moore Methods (hat tip to Californians for High Speed Trains) shows a significant amount of public support for Proposition 1.

Q: "Would you support or oppose a statewide $10 billion dollar bond measure to build a high-speed train system linking the major population centers in Southern California with the Central Valley and the Bay Area?"

July 2008: 58% support, 33% oppose, 9% no opinion

May 2008: 53-36-11

Feb. 2008: 54-39-7

Nov. 2007: 52-42-6

That's big movement in just the last two months. And that's after the non-issue of the Union Pacific right-of-way letter emerged. And despite the state budget deficit, support has merely grown over the last eight months.

What's responsible? Gas prices, obviously. As the price of oil rises, and as it dawns on Californians that this is a permanent, long-term shift, they understand instinctively the value of high speed rail. Don't believe me? Let's see the numbers:

Voters’ top reasons to support the High Speed Train bond are as follows:
-Providing a safe, affordable transportation alternative (77%),
-Reducing dependence on foreign oil (74%),
-Reducing traffic congestion (69%).

It's a shame that even though Californians understand the value of high speed rail, Senate Republicans are still trying to kill the project after six years of delay. AB 3034 isn't necessary to the passage of Proposition 1, which is a sound proposal - but the details of AB 3034 would only make a good plan that much better. Republicans had years to propose changes and improvements, but they suspiciously waited until the 11th hour to raise the objections and try and derail AB 3034. The usual right-wing suspects are ecstatic at this but as the poll numbers above suggest, they are once again swimming against the tide of California public opinion.

Senate Republicans and wingnut editorialists aren't offering Californians ANY solution to high gas prices. None at all. High speed rail IS a solution. It's not the only one, not by a longshot. But it would be very helpful to our state. We've delayed long enough. We're going to the voters this November one way or the other, with Prop 1 as-is or with an AB 3034-enhanced plan. Either way, we are going to win.


Brandon M. Farley said...

Wow! I think it behooves State republicans to get AB 3034 passed.. not to delay it.

What fatal flaws could there be to Prop 1?

I mean, valid/real fatal flaws. Except an a possible enept response to an anti-Prop 1 campaign... I cannot think of any

Robert Cruickshank said...

There are no "fatal flaws." There just aren't. AB 3034 allows for more private investment, allows some other segments of the total route to get funding once SF-LA is taken care of, would mandate an updated business plan, and some other things. All those are fine, but they're not absolutely necessary to the project. Their real purpose is political - to generate more support from voters and the governor.

Prop 1 is a perfectly valid and sound proposal as-is. IT is what was polled - the poll numbers aren't dependent on AB 3034's passage. Most voters aren't going to know about these details and aren't going to care.

They understand what this is really about - do we build alternative, sustainable mass transportation or do we remain dependent on skyrocketing oil prices? Californians are telling us what their answer is going to be.

Brandon M. Farley said...

California republicans, the die hards, must be pretty pessimistic about this November.

In no way will California support a republican candidate for President, and across the state they must be on their heals to retain legislative seats. I bet many GOPers will stay home altogether.... not even voting by absentee ballot.

Assuming most anti HSR folks are republican's... which I believe is true..., it makes me think that the polling numbers under-estimate what will happen on November 4th!

Robert Cruickshank said...

In fairness, there are a lot of pro-HSR Republicans here in California. AB 3034 passed the Assembly with a 57-3 margin. Curt Pringle is doing a great job on the CHSRA board rounding up public support. It's just that the pro-HSR Republicans are not in the State Senate where we need them to be right now.

Most Californians, even Republicans, understand the need for HSR. That's why Prop 1 is going to pass no matter what the Senate Republicans do.

Tony D. said...

I to am thrilled by the recent polling numbers. But because I'm not necessarily in the know, I have to ask: who (or what) is J.Moore Methods? Do they provide good polling data like PPIC? Again, my apologies for not knowing the answer to this already. GO PROP. 1 AND HSR!!

Anonymous said...

The polling is conducted by a group being paid by CHSRA. Draw your own conclusions.

If you think that republicans are not going to vote, with the gay marriage issue on the ballot this fall, you have got to be dreaming. I expect the largest turnout in history.

Robert is right, there was no opposition in the Assembly. However, that was before the Lowenthal very critical report. Now the issue is fully partisan and it will be interesting to see if Perata can get 2 republicans to break ranks.

In any case, look for a CEQA suit because the EIR/EIS is invalid without being able to use the UPRR corridor.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Yes, it is a poll paid for by the official pro-HSR campaign. I cannot wait to see the numbers from PPIC or Field. That being said I see no reason to believe the JMM numbers are wildly inaccurate.

anon, you forget that Barack Obama's presence on the November 2008 ballot is going to draw FAR more Democrats and folks likely to vote for HSR than Prop 8 will draw the wingnuts. This is going to be the largest turnout in a long time, and high turnout favors Democrats and government projects - this election especially.

Lowenthal's report was deeply flawed, as we have explained here many times. It merely provided Republicans the excuse they'd been looking for to say no.

As to a CEQA suit, who would file it? The only people who would do it are those who want to kill high speed rail.

nikko pigman said...

Robert -- many republicans will turn out for the very reason that obama is on the ballot. Its not just a reason for democrats.

AB3034 would have been important because it could have won over the alliance of many republicans who think that this is just a socialist program and that businesses should be running the show. It may be the couple of republican votes that make the difference. I would also fear the loss of support from Arnold Schwarzenegger who wanted a public-private thing going on before he would throw in his support for it. Now its possible he may be against it. Any word on his stance so far? Of course now far right wing nuts like Shawn Hannity and the such will now try to bring it to public attention and harrass it with the kind of illogic they love to use.

By the way, where can I find a list of what the revised AB3034 could've done.

Tony D. said...

So both Dems and Republicans will show up "in force" this November. We live in a Democratic state...end of story. GO PROP. 1 AND HSR!!

Anonymous said...

Lowenthal's report was hardly deeply flawed. It is an attempt to get a project that is good for the State and not a project that will allow the expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars and result in a project being nothing more than a transfer of wealth to developers and land speculators and contractors.

It took a lot of guts for Lowenthal, a Democract to rise up against what was happening and try to rein in this out of control CHSRA.

The key aspect, the peer review of a business plan not yet prepared will not be available until after the vote has been taken this fall. That's the only assurance that the business plan will not be more garbage thrown our way in the attempt to get the money to start the project, regardless of whether it makes any financial sense or not.

If AB-3034 does not pass, you get complete reversion back to the original Prop 1 amendment. Won't the Sierra Club have to come out against the project, since Los Banos is again a station that can be built? Won't Schwarzenegger have to say no, since his public/private partnerships are not required and in fact may be prohibited?

Who is going to file the CEQA lawsuit? Just watch.

Finally Democracts are taxpayers too. There are only so many dollars to spread around, and with the budget crisis and the general economy in complete disarray, they are not going to be so willing to support a project that will not hold much appeal for many of them.

If AB-3034 fails, Prop 1 fails at the polls this fall. If AB-3034 passes, its going to be a real horse race.

bikerider said...

If AB-3034 fails, Prop 1 fails at the polls this fall. If AB-3034 passes, its going to be a real horse race.

AB-3034 would have no practical effect either way. The phrase "putting lipstick on a pig" comes to mind.

Whether or not a station is built at Los Banos does not change the fact that the Pachecho routing has severe environmental impact to wetlands and wilderness. And everyone knows that at some future date, once the line is up and running, the Legislature will just remove the Los Banos prohibition altogether.

The main criticisms from environmental groups was the erroneous ridership figures in the EIR, and the much worse travel times (particularly for trips to Sacramento) by choosing Pachecho.
AB-3034 does not fix these problems, and I have yet to hear from any group (including Sierra Club) that AB-3034 will change minds.

Robert Cruickshank said...

The Sierra Club would be reckless to come out against this. AB 3034 explicitly bans a station at Los Banos but the Authority does not plan to have one there anyway.

Those who complain about "tax dollars" seem to not realize that Californians' wallets are being hit much harder by soaring gas prices and airfares. Prop 1 does not increase anyone's taxes while providing jobs, economic development, and affordable transportation.

That's why the polls show such high levels of public support. They get it.

Tony D. said...

With all due respect to the Republicans who support HSR: The latest Field Poll shows Obama spanking McCain by 24 points in California (SJ Merc., 7/16, 1B). Again, we live in a Democratic state, and regardless of how many Republicans show up to the polls this November, the Dems (and our propositions/HSR) will triumph!

Rob Dawg said...

Prop 1 does not increase anyone's taxes while providing jobs,

Those are the types of comments opponents love. Of course taxes will increase. That's why there's an initiative in front of the voters.

Bay Area Bum said...


I agree with a lot of what you think but PLEASE dont make such blanket statements like 'not increasing taxes.'

Prop 1 will need to be repaid, and it will be repaid by taxes until the system is operational and providing an operating surplus (which we know will happen- it has everyhwere else).

When you make blanket statements like this you leave your credibility open for attacks on this statement and then the anti-government-spending crowd attacks the rest of the project by extension.

Will this result in some tax revenue paying off bond holders? Yes

Will it also provide a (real) economic stimulus as it wil all be spent on CA labor and materials (instead of Chinese goods at Walmart)? again yes

This project has some costs (near term taxes to pay off the bond) but also many enormous long-term benefits - Just dont get blinded by the benefits and lose sight of the cost side.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Show me the tax that is going to go up because of this. I am no fool when it comes to how a general obligation bond works. But it is equally flawed to run around telling people "your taxes will go up!" when there is a) no guarantee that will occur and b) Prop 1 does not involve a tax increase.

Even worse are the frankly ignorant arguments that somehow California can't afford this. Even though the Legislative Analyst has said we can, and even though bonds are best used for infrastructure projects exactly like this, and even though the state budget can and will be fixed outside of what happens with Prop 1, some HSR deniers think that the state can't afford it.

How did we build the Bay Bridges in the middle of the Depression? How did we build the State Water Project during a budget crisis in 1959-60? Bonds.

Further, the cries of "omg new taxes!!!" ignore the fact that the cost of NOT building this will be far higher than the cost of construction. Even if this did result in a tax increase, using Tom McClintock's numbers, it would cost $715 per person. Total. Not per year, but total.

If that was spread out over ten years that's $71.50 a year. $35 a year over 20 years, and $24 a year over 30 years. That's pocket change. The savings in gas prices and airfares alone would make up for it.

So as far as I can tell the way taxes are being brought into this conversation is either ignorant or dishonest.

Francis said...

Calling concerns about taxes being raised ignorant are fighting words. When 10 billion is on the ballot most peoples first concerns are about how we will pay for it, and people assume taxes, which is completely understandable. HSR will not be operational for years so obviously we will need to pay for HSR with tax money, maybe not by raising taxes but its got to come from somewhere.

But HSR is basically a mega stimulus to the Californian economy. Republicans and Dems like stimuli (Stimuluses..?) I dont think that is being talked about enough here.

bikerider said...

How did we build the Bay Bridges in the middle of the Depression? How did we build the State Water Project during a budget crisis in 1959-60? Bonds.

Bay Bridge project was built with Revenue Bonds. Bridge tolls (and Key System farebox revenue) paid back the entire principal and interest.

Since the HSR would be funded through general-obligation bond, the Bay Bridge example is not applicable. It is disingenuous to suggest general-obligation bonds don't have tax implications. If taxes are not raised to cover the cost ($16+B including interest), then corresponding cuts are required in other programs.

Robert Cruickshank said...

But that $16B doesn't hit the general fund all at once. Instead the costs are dribbled out over time, which provides a much more manageable impact. It does not imply that taxes must rise - cuts could pay for it, naturally occurring increases in tax revenue could go toward it.

There is likely to be a major budget reform in the next 2-3 years which could dramatically reshape the way the state budget works. It could obviate the need for any new taxes or cuts to deal with the payback of the HSR bond.

In short, it is disingenuous to look at ANY bond plan and shout "taxes! taxes!" Because it doesn't necessarily work that way. It's a possibility, I suppose, but previous bonds of far larger size haven't made it necessary to raise taxes.

Taxes will likely go up this year but that is part of a solution to a much broader budget issue, specifically the 30-year long revenue shortfall.

Anonymous said...

Nobody has said that the initial bond money, the 9.95 billion is going to be repaid from revenues. The CHSRA does not claim this money, nor the federal matching funds will ever be repaid from profits.

The Authority claims there will be profits and they will be used to repay the private equity holders and pay for expansion of the system (to Sacramento and San Diego).

Robert don't lower yourself to the level of Rod Diridon with the statement it "won't raise your taxes". The bond is to be paid from general revenue funds, which come from taxes. Note also AB-3034 now stretches the bond from a 30 year offering to a 40 year offering, thus costing the general fund less per year, but over the 40 year period costing 2.3 billion more.

These projects have really funny accounting. A major reason why CalTrain wants HSR is that they will get electrification, as well as grade crossings, neither of which they seem to be able to secure funding otherwise.

If they can get electrified, they will save big time on their energy costs. but that is the funny math. Electrification is going to cost about $1 billion. To service that $1 billion requires about $65 million per year. But they don't count the $65 million; that is a capital expenditure and off their books. What they do count is the savings in energy costs (electricity vs. diesel) and they will go around telling everybody how well they are doing.

Anybody running a business like that is soon bankrupt, but not a public entity like CalTrain.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Public transportation systems do not and should not be expected to break even. We don't demand that schools or fire departments do that and we don't demand it of our freeways.

I am not Rod Diridon - I never said Prop 1 will not raise your taxes. The reverse, however, is not true - it's not guaranteed that it will raise your taxes. It might have that effect, it might not. Nobody can embrace either option with certainty.

Nor do we have to. Even if taxes go up for this it will be more than paid for by the savings in gas prices and airfares. THAT is the key point and it's the point that is continuously being ignored.

Brandon M. Farley said...

I am not convinced taxes would be raised at all because of this bond measure; 1) republicans block those and 2) there is always the opportunity to shift existing transportation funds to manage initial repayment debt. ... like what has historically occurred the past couple years... public transit funds shifted to fund education.

By the way, that debt will not be created on November 5th... but incrementally over time as construction occurrs. That is not in the next couple years. So, there would be zero impact to this years budget... or next.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Exactly - the $10 billion is not going to be floated all at once.

Brandon M. Farley said...

As an aside, Prop 1B in November 2006 was a bond measure for $19.9B for transportaion.

A portion went for intercity rail ($4b), but that is beside the point; 1B was for transportation.

There were zero few issues facing the state at the time... outside the usual norm. However, as I recall, Prop 1B may have been partially marketed as an investment in the state and economic stimulus.

Prop 1B pssed by a 61% to 39% vote.

Things are different today; however, it seems if there has been any shift in peoples thinking... it would be to support Prop 1 this November.

Matt said...

What I would like to know is if the people against Prop 1 are against HSR in California in general or just prop 1 as is. Or is it just that the route goes a little to close to your house?

California needs to expand its infrastructure somehow. Wider highways will cost more than even the highest expectations of HSR. Extra runways are not much cheaper. Or perhaps we can just cross our fingers that fuel prices continue to soar and everyone stays home; that's when our economy will really be in trouble.

Robert says the cost of doing nothing is not zero. But doing nothing is not an option. Infrastructure will need to expand somehow as California grows. HSR is just the cheapest option. And now, in this recession (or whatever they are calling it) is the best time to do it. Ask FDR.

I have been reading this blog for a while. I have been living in Texas for 3 years and it is hard to get news about CA HSR over here. I will still be voting for prop 1 thanks to absentee. Thanks for the great reporting Robert.

Brandon M. Farley said...

Mmm... How can you LEGALLY vote on California measures if you live in Texas?

Matt said...

I maintain residency in California. I have not spend a solid 3 years in Texas. I am still defined as in transition and as I will likely me moving back to California in a year I am not going to establish residency here. I still pay CA state taxes even though I work in Texas (which has no state income tax) and I have everything registered in California: My vehicle, my drivers licence, I am registered to vote there

Juan Pardell said...

Many California politicians, will oppose this concept even it makes perfect sense. Rather, there are selfish reasons pertaining to the special interests that contribute to their election campaigns. Its interesting, that Senator Lowenthal, a Democrat, revealed a quasi-critique relative to the project's cost. What should be stated, is Senator Lowenthal has accepted numerous campaign contributions from big oil/gas companies. Obviously, that particular interest group will be detrimentally impacted by high-speed rail. Of couse, they will fight to protect their profit margins. Also, the senator has received campaign contributions from port related interests. Its a well established fact, that Union Pacific has opposed this project. Therefore, Senator Lowenthal is one example, of an elected official usurping a project that makes perfect sense for California, for reasons other than what benefits our state.