The California Chamber of Commerce, a reliably right-wing organization, has announced its opposition to Proposition 1A, the high speed rail bond on the November ballot. Their reasoning is as follows:
“California will need to invest at least $50 billion to complete a statewide high speed rail system. There are other projects that mitigate congestion that should be a higher priority,” said [CEO Allan] Zaremberg.
First, Zaremberg's math is off. CA will invest $10 billion and the rest comes from feds and private enterprise (which will get something in return - isn't that what the Cal Chamber is all about?). Nobody is talking seriously about $50 billion, at least nobody outside the usual HSR denier groups.
But I want to instead focus on the notion that "other projects" are the solution. Such as?
Seriously. What "other projects" would these be? Shouldn't they be specifying what they would do with the money instead of just saying "nope, sorry, not gonna do it"?
We can get a sense of what the Cal Chamber probably supports from Lee Harrington, chairman of the Southern California Leadership Council, a group of businessmen. Harrington was on KQED Forum back in May with Quentin Kopp and also said we should use the bond money for other priorities. Here was my take on Harrington:
His arguments against HSR were incredibly weak and boiled down to his preference, as executive director of the Southern California Leadership Council, that the state's bond capacity be preserved for something like port capacity expansion, freeway widening, airport expansion, that sort of thing. He had no concept of why HSR is needed to keep California moving, and even parroted the discredited "Southwest Airlines offers cheap travel" nonsense. Kopp was especially effective in smacking down that claim, pointing out that the Texas high speed rail project so memorably killed by Southwest and others in the 1990s has been revived, with support from other major airlines. Harrington gave the impression of a man hopelessly stuck in the 20th century, unable to grasp that the basic economy of transportation has undergone a sea change in the last 5 years.
Harrington does not speak for the Cal Chamber but it seems reasonable to assume that his reasoning is similar to that used by the Cal Chamber to oppose Prop 1A. The Cal Chamber prefers to see freeway widening, more airport gates, and more port capacity. The latter is all well and good but won't help move passengers around the state. And as we have repeatedly explained here, expanding freeways and airports will cost between $80 and $150 billion, double to quadruple the cost of HSR.
And those projects are not likely to successfully mitigate congestion. Few airports in the state have room to expand, and the same holds true for the freeways. The phenomenon of induced demand suggests that to try and build your way out of congestion is to chase a mirage. HSR provides certainty on congestion management by getting people out of cars and plans and into a new, fast, convenient alternative.
As many California businesses are aware, high fuel costs are eating into their profitability and causing them to lay off workers. High speed rail helps provide stable passenger transportation costs, saving them money. It also provides greatly expanded commuter rail capacity, especially on the most heavily traveled routes in the Bay Area and Southern California.
The Cal Chamber is turning its back on jobs, profits, and economic growth by opposing Prop 1A. High speed rail will create 160,000 immediate jobs and in the long-term create at least 450,000 more. It will help produce a green dividend that will grow the economy by freeing up money not spent on gas to be spent elsewhere, including in businesses that are members of the Cal Chamber.
As a rather ideologically conservative organization the Cal Chamber's opposition should not be that surprising, and although it's nonsense it will also not likely affect Prop 1A's fate. The far more interesting endorsement discussion is instead happening within the Sierra Club. We'll have more on that one tomorrow.