California’s bullet train boondoggle was sucker punched yesterday, as a Sacramento Superior Court judge blocked $68 billion in bond funding. The same case saw a separate ruling allowing the state to spend $3.4 billion in federal cash for the project, while a second case (same judge) rejected the rail authority’s request to issue $8 billion in bonds that voters approved in 2008. The judge ruled the project would need to meet various mandates, compliances and environmental clearances before the funding stream can be allowed to flow.Hoist by their own big-government petard, some might say.
The convoluted rulings are yet another sign that California’s toxic regulatory and legal environment makes any public works project slow, expensive and Pyrrhic...
We’ve long argued that the train is an awful idea, but it looks like it’s starting to fail for all the wrong reasons. It would be good to see some common sense shape a consensus that the project’s exorbitant costs and marginal utility make it not worth the while. But no, the train is being derailed by red tape.
The judge didn't give the "derail it!" side everything it wanted, though:
By rejecting the state’s specious legal arguments, refusing to validate the issuance of state bonds, and insisting on a complete financial plan as the law requires, Kenny signaled a strict attitude that could bode ill for the project in another big legal challenge next year...So it could still happen, although the likelihood is now less.
One of Kenny’s rulings says, in effect, that the state can’t build that short stretch in the San Joaquin Valley without a plan that lays out how a much longer stretch from Merced to Southern California can be financed.
Since the state has barely enough money for the first stretch, the barrier to meeting the larger financial standard is very high.
The judge’s strict constructionist attitude toward the law governing the project could bite again when he weighs another suit that alleges other ballot measure standards are being ignored – such as requiring a 160-minute ride from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles.
This, California voters, is what happens when you vote what feels good instead of what makes sense. Kinda like that stem cell research vote a few years ago; how much is that costing us, and why is it so important that California pay for that?
Let's close with some common sense:
Brown should acknowledge that the project as now planned is doomed and either kill it or go back to the voters with a revision that includes realistic routes and costs and lays out how it will be financed.California doesn't need high-speed rail. If it needs rail at all, it needs a car-train (and not one run by the government). There are vast distances to be covered out here in the West, and putting your loaded car on a train one day and being in Portland or Seattle the next day sounds like a winner to me--at least, judging by the traffic on I-5 it does.
If it’s worth doing – a debatable point – it’s worth doing right and not with legal sleight-of-hand and pie-in-the-sky financing.
Update, 11/30/13: Not surprised:
These are immense obstacles. Yet instead of acknowledging their seriousness, rail authority board Chairman Dan Richard depicted them as predictable “challenges,” and a spokeswoman said the authority would proceed with its plans to seize land for the project in the Central Valley via eminent domain.