The Legislature’s High-Speed Failure ~Op Ed By Beth Gaines

Sacramento, CA…For a long period in California’s history, trains were the primary connection between the West Coast and the rest of the country. In fact, it has been said the railroads built our state.

So when it comes to laying rail and moving locomotives, California should know how to do it right.

That is what makes the recent decision by the Legislature and Governor Brown to approve a flawed high-speed rail construction plan all the more disappointing.

At a time when the state is failing to meet its obligations to students and families and is struggling to support public safety, it is amazing how little scrutiny the $8 billion plan received at the Capitol.

Since voters approved the sale of $9.9 billion in bonds to fund high-speed rail construction in 2008, the price tag of the project has nearly tripled.

Originally, voters were told the system would stretch from Sacramento to San Diego for a total cost of $34 billion. In 2009, that number jumped to $43 billion. Two years later, the amount more than doubled to a staggering $98.5 billion. To temper the reaction to that cost, the estimate decreased to $68 billion for a system that runs from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Four very different cost estimates over four years. With billions of dollars at stake, it should not have been unreasonable to expect a clearer indication of the amount taxpayers will ultimately be asked to pay.

The annual debt payments on the Legislature’s $4.7 billion bonds alone will total about $330 million per year. This is money that could otherwise be made available for schools or other priorities, especially at a time when education is the target of 99 percent of the majority party’s midyear “trigger” cuts.

The Legislature’s priorities are especially questionable when liberals are asking hard-working Californian voters for billions of dollars in new spending money this fall in the form of a job-killing $8.5 billion tax increase.

If legislators are asking for more taxes, it is difficult to justify funding a bullet train with money the state apparently does not have. They put our schools, our emergency services, and our health services on the line, yet find the money for a new train we do not need.

What is even more concerning is that the Sacramento region will benefit only marginally from the system’s construction, despite helping foot the bill for the rest of the state.

Trains are an important mode of transportation for many Californians and an invaluable part of our economy as the vast majority of our goods are shipped by freight rail, which will not be improved by the construction of a high-speed system. This is especially true in Roseville with its major hub for Union-Pacific.

Clearly, it is not the time to embark on building a brand new system that will likely far surpass its current cost estimate of $68 billion and do little to help our state and local economies.

The Legislature had the chance to get this spending plan right and prove that California is still a national leader in rail. Unfortunately, the immediate allure of a new train running down the middle of the state was too great for the majority party to pass up. Now taxpayers will be left to pick up the tab for years to come.

Assemblywoman Beth Gaines (R-Rocklin) represents the 4th Assembly District, which includes portions of Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Alpine Counties.