The Reason Foundation is in full-scale attack mode on Prop 1A this week, flooding the state's newspapers with anti-HSR op-eds that stretch the bounds of truth and credibility. I guess that's easy to do when you're flush with oil money. As we've explained before, the Reason Foundation's HSR study is a tour de force in truthiness with statements that bear little connection to reality. Unfortunately, California's media outlets tend to listen to these guys, even when their claims have been so thoroughly discredited.
This week the Reason Foundation folks have been joined by another group of longtime HSR deniers - Richard Tolmach and his "California Rail Foundation." The CRF is a fancy name for Tolmach and two friends, who comprise the entirety of the organization. It has no website, no phone number, no members, no email list. It's basically Tolmach's effort to look like something other than a gadfly. Tolmach got an op-ed published in the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Reason Foundation has shown up in the LA Business Journal and the San Diego Union Tribune. Their message is starting to resonate, so it's worth spending some time deconstructing their nonsense.
Tolmach's article is full of misstatements and outright lies. For example:
In this year of global market meltdowns, voters should be cautious about a financially-leveraged proposal like Prop. 1A. The numbers don't add up and the High-speed Rail Authority refuses to explain how the system it proposes can be financed.
Not so. The CHSRA has explained how it would be financed. $10 billion comes from Prop 1A. $10-$15 billion comes from the federal government which has already signaled its intent to help fund it - something none of these op-eds acknowledge. The rest comes from the private sector which has shown strong interest.
What if neither materializes? Then we don't spend any money. Prop 1A mandates that no money can be spent unless matching funds are secured. What if the credit crunch means nobody buys our bonds? Then we wait until the market opens up, or we do nothing. In each case, California loses nothing.
How can taxpayers trust the rail authority with $20 billion, given this record?
Who says we have to trust them? Prop 1A contains numerous safeguards, including Legislative appropriation of funds. Tolmach conveniently omits that fact.
They go on to make the usual claims about ridership using the same truthiness that we debunked last month. Tolmach mentions TGV Southeast. "mike" had a good response to that:
The TGV Paris Southeast (PSE) line gets 45k passengers per route-km (20 million pax / 448 route-km) while the THSR gets 101k passengers per route-km (34 million pax / 335 route-km). CA HSR is forecasting a high of 80k passengers per route-km in 2030, or around 56k passengers per route-km at today's populations. This is slightly above TGV PSE but well below THSR. It does not seem unreasonable since the LA Metro Area is larger than Paris Metro Area or the Taipei Metro Area.
Not satisfied, Tolmach continues his column, throwing outright lies at the reader:
High-speed trains may never run, as the revenue bond is only a small fraction of the total amount required. The rail authority's idea is apparently to start a very big hole in the ground, then come back and ask for $30 billion to $70 billion more from taxpayers. Federal funding, following the Wall Street bailout, is as unlikely as private investment.
Let's say that again - those statements are lies. Prop 1A contains very strict language preventing the CHSRA from spending money before matching funds are obtained. The recent Amtrak bill contains some HSR funding and Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) intend to propose a massive HSR spending bill. Barack Obama, who looks increasingly likely to win the November election, is a strong supporter of high speed rail and has spoken of his desire to fund infrastructure projects like HSR as part of an economic stimulus package and green jobs program.
Tolmach's lies are matched by the absurdity of Reason Foundation Senior Fellow George Passantino, whose column in today's San Diego U-T is a blatant attempt to mislead readers. Have a look at his description of the HSR route:
For San Diego taxpayers, the high-speed rail system, on November's ballot as Proposition 1A, is an especially bad deal. Want to get out of traffic and commute via a quick bullet train ride from San Diego to Irvine? Sorry, the train does not go there. Well, at least you can go from San Diego to Anaheim. Actually, that route isn't offered either. How about a direct trip from San Diego to Los Angeles? Yes, you can make that trip, but you'll head to Escondido, out to Riverside, and then onto the Ontario Airport, before heading back west toward Los Angeles.
Passantino is being dishonest - San Diego is part of Phase II. And more astoundingly, he seems to not grasp the concept of "high speed" - meaning that even going from SD to LA or OC via Riverside is going to be faster than driving or taking the Pacific Surfliner.
The rest of his column contains the same misleading statements Tolmach's op-ed included. So it goes with the Reason Foundation, which has decided that truth be damned, a sustainable, prosperous high speed rail future has to be stopped at all costs.
Considering how much money the Reason Foundation has it seems clear that, in fact, a No on 1A organization HAS indeed materialized, and is overwhelming us in spending. It's time we fought back. Write letters to the editors of these papers explaining why the op-ed authors are not to be believed. Help distribute Yes on 1A signs, stickers and info cards. Donate. But most importantly, explain to everyone you know that these op-eds are nonsense.