All the way back in March I opined that the biggest threat to the passage of the high speed rail bonds was the state budget. If the budget was still in deficit, folks might vote against HSR bonds even though the two are unrelated.
That may well be happening. We haven't seen new polls on Prop 1A in some time, but when we do I expect it to show a very close race.
The problem is that this thinking is deeply flawed. The state budget's problems do not - at all - mean that Prop 1A is a bad idea. Prop 1A is not the reason why the state is in deficit. It will not worsen that deficit. Instead Prop 1A is absolutely necessary to getting us OUT of deficit. Anyone telling you otherwise is simply demonstrating their ignorance of economics.
Let's look at this more closely. First, the state budget deficit. Deficits are NOT a product of natural forces but instead of bad decisions. California's current deficit stems from two major sources:
1. $12 billion in tax giveaways since 1993. This includes a $6 billion hole Arnold blew in the budget when he unilaterally cut the vehicle license fee upon coming to office in 2003. That is an annual cost of $6 billion, by the way, since Arnold has since been backfilling the revenues. Restoring that $6 billion would alone close the projected deficit. Prop 1A will create 160,000 infrastructure jobs that will pump income and sales tax revenue into the state's general fund. We badly need that revenue. We cannot afford to leave that money on the table.
(Note: California has also cut nearly $10 billion in spending since early 2007. Those who claim that this is a spending problem clearly have no knowledge of the details of the state budget.)
2. The weakening economy. As I have been arguing almost every day this month, that is an argument FOR Prop 1A. Infrastructure projects are a tried and true part of stabilizing and growing the economy during rough times. The Golden Gate Bridge, Shasta Dam, and the California Aqueduct were all built with voter-approved bonds during a recession, the first two during the deepest part of the Great Depression. Prop 1A will do the same today. We need jobs. Now. California would be crazy to turn down 160,000 jobs right now.
Further, as a recent PBS documentary explained, it was high gas prices that burst the housing bubble. Yes, gas prices have been falling - but that is only because of demand destruction. In other words, people drive less, so the price falls. The ONLY way that can be sustained over the long-term is by building alternatives to oil. If we don't, demand WILL rise - and so will gas prices.
Finally, numerous economists have argued strongly for infrastructure spending right now as both economic stimulus and a way to ease the financial crisis - which after all is happening because of underlying insolvency here in the United States. These economists include Lawrence Summers, Nouriel Roubini, Duncan Black, Dean Baker and Brad DeLong, and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman.
Those who claim otherwise - that the state budget deficit means we must reject Prop 1A - are lying to you. They're trying to prevent a revival of the New Deal. These groups, like the oil company funded, far-right Reason Foundation, or the anti-government Howard Jarvis Association, are primarily interested in drowning government in a bathtub. Their opposition to HSR is part of a broader ideological agenda designed to prevent California from addressing its economic crisis by providing sustainable, non-oil based transportation that we badly need.
If you want to help ease our budget deficit and grow the economy, vote for Prop 1A. If you want to prolong the pain and do nothing to resolve the deficit, vote against Prop 1A. A no vote on Prop 1A is like punching the wall to cure starvation. It's only going to leave you in more pain and do nothing to solve the immediate problem.
UPDATE: Matt Yglesias calls them The New Hoovers:
This is ludicrous. You need to respond to a downturn with expansionary policies of some kind. In recent decades, we’ve preferred relying on expansionary monetary policy (Fed interest rate cuts) rather than Keynesian deficit spending. But at the moment, there’s no real room left for the Fed to cut rates. That means you need deficit spending. Among other things, the nature of state and local budgets means that a contraction in the economy will naturally lead to a contraction in state and local spending. That will lead to further contraction in the economy. If the federal government did what Scherer’s suggesting and added its own cutbacks to state government cutbacks, local government cutbacks, and private sector cutbacks that would only deepen the recession.
Again, consider the source of most HSR denier propaganda: the Reason Foundation and the Howard Jarvis Association. These people think Herbert Hoover was a good president with the right ideas.