Guest Opinion: Legislators need courage to end high-speed rail now
Readers! Please inundate our local state legislators with calls, emails, tweets, whatever, urging them to vote no on high-speed rail. No hedging their bets, kicking the can down the road or face-saving compromises. Just vote no and end this terrible boondoggle.
In particular, the education community at all levels should be concerned that the state Legislature may pass a budget this month authorizing nearly $3 billion of high-speed rail bonds. The money necessary to repay these bonds — up to $700 million per year — will " crowd out" other items from the state budget, most likely education.
Recent polling shows another connection between education and high-speed rail. When first questioned those polled support the Governor's proposed tax increase on the November ballot, passage of which is necessary to avoid major cuts in education. The same polling reveals that high-speed rail has become unpopular with the electorate. When those polled are told that under the Governor's plan the money raised isn't legally committed to education but could be used for other purposes, such as high-speed rail, support plummets. These potential voters apparently had no problem in connecting the dots.
We should be hearing education leaders speak about how high-speed rail will have a negative impact on California education but silence seems to be the rule so far.
As time has passed since the voters narrowly passed Proposition 1A in 2008 authorizing $9.9 billion in bonds for high-speed rail, subject to legislative approval, it has become increasingly clear that this idea is deeply flawed. Indeed, there are so many things wrong with it that high-speed rail opponents have difficulty in agreeing which flaw is the worst. Here are some of the candidates, any one of which ought to sink high- speed rail:
• The estimated costs have nearly tripled since 2008. That's an extra $30 billion to $60 billion.
• The ridership estimates have been exposed as ridiculously high.
• The high-speed rail proposal as we now know it is not what the voters approved in 2008. Plain and simple, the voters were misled.
• There is no credible identified source of funding for the additional $60 billion to $75 billion that would be needed to complete the project
• The high-speed rail authority's estimate that it can operate trains at a cost of 10 cents per passenger mile is ludicrously low. France, which has been operating high-speed trains for 30 years, appears to be the world's low cost leader at 20 cents per passenger mile and most other nations are around 30 cents.
Voters have picked up on these shortcomings and I hear from constituents that this project just has to be at death's door. Other local elected officials report similar discussions. But the truth is that despite these seemingly fatal flaws and negative poll results high-speed rail is alive and well in Sacramento. Authorization for the sale of $3 billion in bonds and even a significant loosening of environmental laws as they apply to high-speed rail are likely to pass the legislature. This amazing disconnect between Sacramento and California citizens seems traceable to the Governor's desire to leave a legacy, a belief that we ought to back anything that would increase jobs ( even if the number of jobs is wildly exaggerated) and party discipline. At present no Democrat has announced that he/she will vote against high-speed rail and no Republican has declared to vote for it.
I am in my 16th year as a local elected official and like to think that I have learned something about politics and politicians during that time. Here are some things I believe: 1) Joe Simitian, Rich Gordon and Jerry Hill are excellent legislators; I have voted for all of them and expect I will again; 2) politics is usually compromise and 3) it's hard to buck calls for party discipline.
But there are issues that are so important that one has to stand up and be counted even at the risk of a career. I believe high-speed rail is such an issue. California can't afford to waste billions of dollars on an unrealistic vanity project.
In his book "Profiles in Courage" then Sen. John F. Kennedy wrote of eight United States Senators who, at various times in our history, took principled, lonely stands on major issues at the risk of incurring the wrath of their party. In praising their courage JFK wrote, "the senator who follows the independent course of conscience is likely to discover that he has earned the disdain not only of his colleagues in the Senate and his associates in the party but also that of the all-important contributors to his campaign fund."
To counter that pressure our office-holders need to hear from their constituents. Let's help them achieve their Profile in Courage moment by letting them know of our support for a No vote on high-speed rail.
How to contact your local legislators:
State Sen. Joe Simitian
650-688 6384; 916-651-4011
Assemblyman Rich Gordon
Assemblyman Jerry Hill
Larry Klein is a member of the Palo Alto City Council, 1981 to 1989 and 2005 to date, and is chair of the city's Rail Committee.