There seems to be a growing consensus that when it comes to doling out federal HSR stimulus money, California should get the lion's share. Earlier this summer The Business Insider suggested CA get "all" the HSR funds, arguing that if the money was spread too thin, nothing would actually get built and we thus wouldn't have much to show for the stimulus spending, whereas giving it "all" to California would help produce an actual bullet train.
Now the state's largest newspaper has joined in the "give it to California" chorus, with this editorial in today's LA Times:
Last November, voters passed a bond measure(2008) approving $9.95 billion to fund a high-speed train line from San Diego to Sacramento. They couldn't have known it then, but the timing was fortuitous. Months later, as part of the stimulus package, Congress dedicated $8 billion to pay for high-speed rail projects across the country. California is the only state where voters have already approved funding for a bullet train, and it has the most state-of-the-art proposal, with the most planning work completed, in the nation. Because the funding is meant to stimulate the economy as quickly as possible, officials at the Federal Railroad Administration are expected to give priority to applicants that can start hammering rail spikes soon. So when the California High-Speed Rail Authority submitted its application on Friday, it had powerful arguments on its side.
First off, I am really pleased to see the Times connecting the Yes vote on Prop 1A to economic stimulus. This blog repeatedly framed Prop 1A in precisely those terms last fall, and it is one of the chief reasons for building high speed rail. While we can and should debate the best way to build that train, we cannot let ourselves forget the broader context - an economy in tatters, with even former Fed chair Alan Greenspan, chief architect of the wrecked economy, predicting 10% unemployment before much longer. California desperately needs jobs, and HSR is a damn good way to provide it.
The Times goes on:
The authority is applying for $4.7 billion of the $8-billion federal pot, yet there will be heavy political pressure to spread the money across a broad geographical region rather than giving so much to a single state. Even so, there are strong reasons to award California an outsized share.
It is undeniably parochial for The Times to argue that Washington should send tax money to California for a project that would boost the local economy. But nobody has to take our word that the Golden State should be first in line. In addition to the timing considerations, there is the important matter of ridership -- for the rail program to be successful, it should focus on projects that can move the most people. America 2050, a Washington-based public planning think tank, studied regions with the highest potential ridership for high-speed rail, ranking them by city pairs (routes between two cities). A line connecting New York and Washington was ranked the highest, but three of the top 10 city pairs would be connected by California's bullet train, including L.A. to San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose. If federal officials want the most bang for their stimulus buck, they should look west.
Actually, I don't think it is parochial at all. California is 1/10th of the nation's population, and is responsible for 13% of its GDP. We are a major part of the national, even the global economy. If California does not have an economic recovery, neither will the nation as a whole.
And one reason for California's crisis is, as the Observer noted in a long article today, a fatal dependence on sprawl. For California to have a truly lasting economy recovery, we will need to provide transportation solutions that encourage urban density, reduce dependence on oil, and provide a Green Dividend (economic growth through reallocation of money previously spent on oil).
In short, if the US is going to have economic growth in the coming decade, California must have growth and recovery. And if California is going to have growth and recovery, California needs to build high speed rail to reshape the way we move people around, and how we pay for doing so.
So if anything, the LA Times editorial, while generally excellent and welcome, is actually understating the case. California ought to expect to get much of the federal HSR stimulus - not just for our own sake, but for the nation's sake as well.