The failure of the budget propositions yesterday have led some to wonder how this will impact high speed rail. It's been discussed in the comments, and is mentioned in a George Will column. George Will has been on a kind of jihad against sustainable policy lately, with his silly attack on Portland and his dishonest misuse of data to undermine action on global warming. So it should be in that vein that we read this:
California’s voters are complicit in their state’s collapse.
They elect and re-elect the legislators off whom public employees unions batten. Also, voters have promiscuously used their state’s plebiscitary devices to control and fatten the budget. Last November, as the dark fiscal clouds lowered, they authorized $9.95 billion more in debt as a down payment on a perhaps $75 billion high-speed rail project linking San Francisco and Los Angeles — a delight California cannot afford.
As you can tell, facts and evidence no longer mean anything to Will - there is no basis for the claim that HSR will cost $75 billion. If "perhaps" is the only justification to toss out numbers, then I think HSR will "perhaps" cost $1.50. I mean, really. WTF.
Of course, Will's argument is deeper. He claims that HSR is unnecessary (a "delight") that we "can't afford" and its mere presence on the book as a partly-funded proposal is to him further sign of how California got into the crisis.
So, here we go again, with arguments that to me were decisively won by our side in 2008. I won't completely repeat myself - go read The Cost of Doing Nothing is Not Zero and Prop 1A and State Bond Debt for starters.
But, it is worth reminding ourselves of the key points:
- If we don't build HSR, that does NOT represent savings to the budget. HSR is itself savings. The cost of expanding airports and freeways to meet the expected future demand has been estimated to be anywhere from $80 to $160 billion. HSR can meet much of that demand for much less of the cost. Further, it does so by providing sustainable transportation, saving money to workers and businesses by liberating them from the vagaries of oil prices.
- HSR is absolutely necessary to economic recovery. Our budget mess isn't the product of overspending but of the worst economic crisis in 60 years. If it were up to folks like Will we'd still be in the Depression - massive public works projects like HSR provide short-term stimulus and long-term economic growth. The 100,000+ jobs the construction will create will pour money into the state's economy and into the state's treasury. On the converse, NOT doing public works like this will help create a downward spiral that will leave California in perpetual crisis.
- HSR does NOT come at the expense of any other budget line item. It's not a matter of firing teachers to build trains. This is because the money for HSR is going to come out of bonds and federal funds. Some might say that's disingenuous since we have to pay for the bonds somehow. But the point I would make is that HSR's costs are amortized over 30-40 years. Teachers need to be hired and paid now. Cutting HSR won't save other services (especially when the current amount of spending on HSR is barely $100 million, whereas the budget deficit is $25,100 million). The problems with the ongoing budget deficit have to be resolved through a mixture of new taxes and economic stimulus. Cutting stuff will actually make the problem worse.
It's not that we support HSR because we are train junkies. We support it because it is an essential part of our economic recovery and vital to providing long-term prosperity in the 21st century. We should not be surprised when the usual suspects and, yes, HSR deniers like George Will use the budget mess to try and push through their usual attack on government and on passenger rail. But we can and should push back against their nonsense.