May 18, 2019

Quick Takes (v35): No, It's Our Money

Quick Takes
A while back, California received federal funding to build a high-speed passenger rail service connecting San Francisco and LA.

Some work has been done on the project, however it seem clear, based on statements by Governor Gavin Newsom, that it may never be built. Here's a report about his State of the State address back in February,
In a change to a project voters first approved with a $10 billion bond during the Schwarzenegger administration, Newsom said there "simply isn't a path" to build highs peed rail to connect the northern and southern parts of the state wihtout more funding. The project as originally designed now is estimated to cost at least $77 billion.
Instead, he called for focus on a section linking the Central Valley cities of Merced and Bakersfield, which have long been neglected by lawmakers. "The Valley may be known around the world for agriculture, but there is another story ready to be told: a story of a region hungry for investment, a workforce eager for more training and good jobs, Californians who deserve a fair share of our state's prosperity," he said. The high speed rail project can be part of that.  
He also said at that time that the larger project "isn't dead" and that they'd complete an environmental review for it - and he also said he
does not want to return the $3.5 billion the state has received in federal funding.
Well, here's the thing: the federal government gives tons of money to infrastructure projects across the country, some of them worthy and some not, depending on who you ask. But the money that's given needs to be spent on the things for which it was appropriated.

Why, you ask?

Well, if it's wrong to take money from the military and other federal agencies and use it to build a wall on the southern border (and that is wrong), then it must also be wrong to take money designated to building a high-speed rail system connecting southern and northern California and using that instead to only connect two cities in the middle of the state. Sure, it's all railroads - but this is apples and oranges, it really is.

And the Federal Railroad Administration understands that. Here's their jargon-filled statement withdrawing nearly a billion dollars in funding from the project (I've emphasized the operative part):
After careful consideration, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has terminated Cooperative Agreement No. FR-HSR-0118-12-01-01 (the FY10 Agreement) with the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), and will deobligate the $928,620,000 in funding under that agreement.  The decision follows FRA’s Notice of Intent to Terminate and consideration of the information provided by CHSRA on March 4, 2019. FRA finds that CHSRA has repeatedly failed to comply with the terms of the FY10 Agreement and has failed to make reasonable progress on the Project.  Additionally, California has abandoned its original vision of a high-speed passenger rail service connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, which was essential to its applications for FRA grant funding. FRA continues to consider all options regarding the return of $2.5 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds awarded to CHSRA.
In a statement, Newsom promised to defend "California's money," noting in part
The Trump administration's action is illegal and direct assault on California, our green infrastructure, and the thousands of Central Valley workers who are building this project...
Just as we have seen from the Trump Administration's attacks on our clean air standards, our immigrant communities and in countless other areas, the Trump Administration is trying to exact political retribution on our state...
Well, there's some of that, sure.  Just as there's no secret that I'm no fan of the Trump administration, it's also no secret that the Trump administration is not a fan of California, New York, and other blue states. (I don' think I've hit the administration's radar yet, but you never know.)

But the fact is, the state of California thinks that our money is their money, even if they're going to use it for a different purpose than it was appropriated - and even if they don't need it. The state's own High-Speed Rail Authority, which Newsom created, said that even without the billion or so that's being deobligated, it
believes it will still have enough money to complete the expanded Central Valley segment - as long as revenues from California's cap-and-trade auctions perform strongly.
For California, everything is personal when it comes to the Trump administration. It's all about 'him' and 'us' and never the twain shall meet.

But in this case, the Golden State is wrong -- it's not their money, it's our money. And it should be re-obligated to another project if they can't spend it the way they said it would be.

And frankly, everyone needs to get used to this idea, whether you like Trump or not. If you're blessed with our tax dollars, we have a right to hold you accountable for spending them the way you said you would.

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