Newsom’s California High-Speed Rail Lie
Governor Gavin Newsom’s speech for $4.2 billion in public funding for high-speed rail is a big lie.
“Let’s get the job done. Let’s finish the Central Valley component,” Newsom said during a visit to the Bay Area last week to push his budget plan. “The voters have set aside the money for this purpose, I want to pull those dollars out of Proposition 1A and finish this job. Do it quickly and wisely.
Let’s be clear: this is not what Californians approved in 2008.
If Newsom really believes his assertion about voters’ desires, then he should ask them. Let’s put high-speed rail back on the ballot with realistic independent cost estimates, timelines, and environmental analyzes and see what California voters really think.
Newsom knows that would be a losing business.
In 2008, when voters approved nearly $10 billion in government bond financing, they were promised high-speed trains traveling at over 200 mph from San Diego to San Francisco and Sacramento at a cost of $45 billion. From last year, the estimate had jumped to $83 billion and maybe up to $100 billion, but just for a system from San Francisco to Anaheim.
Newsom knows the state cannot deliver the promised system to voters. “Right now,” Newsom said in his 2019 State of the State address, “there is simply no way to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to LA .”
Newsom has since flip-flopped. But nothing else has changed. There has never been enough money and there never will be. And if voters had been told the truth at the time, they would never have approved of California’s bullet train to nowhere.
The governor now wants the latest voter-approved money to “finish the Central Valley component.” It’s just a 171 mile segment from Merced to Bakersfield. And the $4.2 billion Newsom wants won’t even be enough to complete that $22 billion segment.
After that, so what? Californians were told that the private sector would invest. This is not the case. Californians were told federal funding would fill the gap. It is a chimera. Even with a Democratic administration in Washington and the passage of a trillion-dollar infrastructure package, there is only the possibility of a net federal money for California’s high-speed rail.
It has been more than 13 years since voters passed Proposition 1A. Had they been told that the money they approved would at best improve rail service in the Central Valley, the measure would have been resoundingly rejected. Voters were misled and now Newsom is doubling down on the lie.
Fortunately, the governor cannot spend the remaining $4.2 billion in voter-approved money without the consent of the Legislative Assembly. And, so far, lawmakers, including from Newsom’s own party, are reluctant.
The high-speed train is an attractive concept. But, as the lack of private investment shows, this will never happen. And, without substantial traffic, it is not clear at all that it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s time to end this mess. Or at least ask voters if they want to keep throwing good money after bad.