Another weekend, another round of media articles trying to convince Californians that somehow, an economic downturn caused by overdependence on oil should not be addressed by job-creating projects that would provide renewably powered transportation and enable economic growth over the long term. Today it's the Redding Record-Searchlight making the argument that somehow Prop 1A would hurt California's budget and economy, when in fact it is a necessary part of the solution.
This is Shasta Dam under construction in 1942:
It remains a key part not just of the state of California's overall water storage and provision system, but was crucial to the Redding economy during the 1930s and in the years since.
It was also a Depression-era project. Built at a time when California barely had enough money to balance its own budget. In 1933 California passed a bond measure allowing money to be spent on the dam - $170 million, a significant sum in those days. By 1935 California had secured federal funds to help begin construction on the dam. The jobs created by the dam project and the long-term value of the Central Valley Project were considerable. Redding got badly needed jobs as well as flood control. California got jobs and a base for long-term agriculture, an industry that remains significant to this day in Redding.
Had California rejected the 1933 Shasta Dam bond, chances are the dam would not have been built for a decade or two. Redding would have lost out on those crucial jobs in the depths of the Depression and California agriculture might not have had the stable water source it needed to be productive for these last 70 years.
We can go on. The Golden Gate Bridge funding fell through after the 1929 stock market crash - so voters in the North Coast counties that comprise the Golden Gate Bridge District had to approve bonds, which they did in November 1930. Similar bonds had to be sold for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, also in the depths of the Depression. The two bridge projects not only provided jobs when they were desperately needed but enabled massive economic growth in the Bay Area after World War II.
The argument that we cannot build high speed rail because of the economic crisis or credit crunch simply doesn't hold water. The economic downturn is an argument FOR high speed rail. Worse, the Redding Record-Searchlight's reasons for not supporting Prop 1A make little sense:
An alluring investment in 21st-century transportation for a growing state? Yes. It's also $10 billion that California doesn't have.
Of course California doesn't have $10 billion - which is why we're going to borrow it. The state's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst has determined we actually can afford Prop 1A. Repayment lasts over a 40-year term. The jobs, tax revenue and economic activity created by high speed rail combined with the savings on oil consumption and carbon emissions are likely to outweigh the annual debt service cost.
If it were up to HSR deniers like the Redding Record-Searchlight we'd still be in the Depression. We wouldn't have the dams and bridges that made our late 20th century prosperity possible. And if we follow their advice we will have a hard time getting out of whatever we're going to call this economic crisis.