Tag Archives: HSR

Californians Want Stuff, But Want it Cheaper

New PPIC Poll shows voters want HSR and water projects on the cheap

by Brian Leubitz

Everybody likes getting stuff. Whether it is a free smoothie or a shiny new high speed train. However, most of those everybodies are not so into paying for it. At least, that’s what we hear from the latest PPIC numbers):

Voters passed a $10 billion bond in 2008 for the planning and construction of high-speed rail. Today, when read a description of the project and its $68 billion cost estimate, 43 percent of likely voters favor it and 54 percent are opposed. Last March, when the estimated cost was $100 billion, responses were similar (43% favor, 53% oppose). When those who are opposed are asked how they would feel if the cost were lower, overall support rises to 55 percent. Most (59%) say high-speed rail is important to the state’s quality of life and economic vitality (32% very important, 27% somewhat important).

“Majorities of likely voters would favor the water bond and high-speed rail if the price tags on these big-ticket items were reduced,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Californians’ continuing concerns about the economy and the state and federal budgets make planning for the future a difficult process.” (PPIC)

The water bond numbers are pretty similar, with a 42/51 split. These numbers aren’t really surprising. It’s like asking a kid if they’d like some gum for a dollar, and then asking how about a quarter. Sure, they’d prefer it at a quarter, even more than the pricey gum. But, stuff costs money, and ultimately, we can’t go over and over these decisions. The HSR bond passed, and now we have to look at how we can build an efficient system.

There were a bunch of other numbers thrown in with this extensive poll. Brown is at 49%, the Legislature at 34% (a big jump since we got rid of the 2/3 budget), and only the alcohol surtax has a majority among revenue ideas. But, dropping down the poll a bit, I found the numbers on reforming the initiative system very intriguing.

A majority of likely voters (62%) are satisfied with the way the initiative process is working, but most of them (55%) are only somewhat satisfied. Three-fourths (74%) say the process needs changes (36% major changes, 38% minor changes). Only 19 percent say it is fine the way it is. Asked about three changes that have been suggested, overwhelming majorities support each: 84 percent favor increasing public disclosure of funding sources for signature gathering and initiative campaigns, 78 percent favor having a period of time in which the initiative sponsor could meet with the legislature to see if there is a compromise solution before putting a measure on the ballot. And 77 percent favor having a system for reviewing and revising proposed initiatives to try to avoid legal issues and drafting errors. Each of these three ideas has strong support across party lines.

I was actually a bit surprised at the high number on satisfaction, but that seems to run counter to the desire for change. The changes tested are all relatively minor, but perhaps with a couple of them, the process could become a little less of a free for all for the big money interests.

Check the full poll for more information at the PPIC’s website.

Giving Cultural Genocide a Bad Name

Diane Harkey isn’t known for being the most sedate legislator around.  Or really being the most up on the issues, or even bothering an attempt at understanding.  So, while this blows past absurd on the way to crazytown, you can’t really be that surprised by this comment, captured by the always on the spot Carla Marinucci:

CA GOP Assemblywoman Diane Harkney calls high speed rail “cultural genocide” in Central Valley at today’s press conference w Rep officials(Carla Marinucci Twitter)

Of course, the problem with twitter is that you don’t really get that much of the context, so you could see this in two ways. First, that we are somehow destroying car culture.  That would make some sort of sense if peak oil already wasn’t in gear on that one.  I think a $5 gallon of gas would do more than a competitive mode of transportation.

Dumbest Quote of the Day: On HSR

Rep. Kevin McCarthy:

If you can’t prove it’s viable from a business plan, it’s not a (project) the government should be funding (SacBee)

I’m not sure it is worth going any further than that, but I will. Rep. McCarthy said that about HSR, while at the same time his central Valley Congressional cohorts are saying that the money approved for HSR should be put towards widening Highway 99.

Can we think about this for a while? He’s criticizing rail for not making enough money back.  When exactly have roads ever paid for themselves?  When we do toll up roads, people are outraged (occasionally justifiably).

With gas prices at or above $4, can we just finally quit the ridiculous canard that roads are a good long-term solution?  Either we work on making HSR happen, or you need to present an actual solution that both addresses the needs of a state of over 40 million people as well as climate change.

Sticking your head in the ground and hoping for the 1980s to come back doesn’t actually help California.

Can We Afford High Speed Rail?

That was the banner headline on yesterday’s San Jose Mercury News,

with extended coverage here.

Now I’m certain no one else around here reads the Merc. I figured this would at least bring Robert out to discuss.  

Interesting that the online version has the harder-to-criticize title “Who Will Pay For HSR?”

I suppose I can’t really call this a hit piece. The Peninsula NIMBYs were always certain to make trouble, and it would be even worse reporting to cheerlead and ignore that the financing doesn’t add up.

But the first question is the one that leads to the right answer. We can’t afford NOT to do HSR, unless we believe that the infrastructure in place today is adequate for the next 40 or 50 years. Since that’s a ridiculous idea, we have no better choice than finding the money and building the HSR.  

Mercury Public Affairs To Get HSR Contract

The CA High Speed Rail Commission is on the hunt for a PR firm. And why not choose the firm that has Arnold’s political cronies?

California’s high speed rail commission, dominated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appointees, is set to award a $9-million contract today to a company led by the governor’s top political advisor and his former campaign manager.

The three commission staff members charged with recommending a public relations firm have advised the board to give the contract to Mercury Public Affairs at its meeting today. Schwarzenegger strategist Adam Mendelsohn is a partner at Mercury, as is Steve Schmidt, who managed the governor’s 2006 reelection effort. (LA Times 9/3/09)

Also of note, former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez is also a partner at the firm. Now, it can very well be argued that Mercury offered the best value proposition, but it could also just gives that whiff of a payback.

The deal still must be confirmed by the whole commission.

Dept of Good News: LB Port Installs World’s First Shoreside Power System & High Speed Rail

During this whole budget crisis, a lot of friends have told me that Calitics is a big downer.  So, in an effort to highlight some of the good stuff going around California, I’ve decided to introduce something I hope to do regularly with this Dept. of Good News.  If you have some good news that will fit this space, shoot me an email.

First, the Long Beach Port has installed the worlds’ first shore-side power system for oil tankers that will drastically decrease pollution in the area.  It will allow tankers in one of the busiest ports on the West Coast to connect to the power grid rather than sit in the port idling, burning dirty fuel.

At a ceremony formally unveiling the port’s dockside power system, port Executive Director Dick Steinke described it as “another giant step” toward cleaning up the air. The project cost $23.7 million and took three years to complete, port officials said. The port contributed about $17.5 million to the project and BP paid the rest.

Roger Brown, regional vice president of BP, said the emissions reductions amounted to 50% even when factoring in pollution created by power plants in generating the electricity. (LAT 6/4/09)

Speaking of reducing emissions, you know what else would do that? Why, high speed rail, of course.  After passing our high speed rail bond package (2008’s Prop 1A), we are now sitting pretty for the federal government’s $8 B of stimulus money tagged for high speed rail.

“The reason why California is looked at so closely — it’s been a priority of your governor, it’s been a priority of your Legislature, they’ve talked about it, a lot of planning has been done,” Biden said in a conference call with reporters.

The vice president said the administration wants “to get shovel-ready projects out the door as quickly as we can. . . . So California is in the game.” (LAT 6/4/09)

HSR has been in the works for a loooong time, and had we just put this on the ballot 6 years ago or whenever it was originally scheduled we would now be in full construction mode.  Despite that, after all the land is purchased and a bit more planning is done, we should be digging for what could be our next great infrastructure project sooner rather than later.

So, are you cheered up yet?

Tuesday Open Thread

Other things happening around the state

• Who said Republicans never lifted a finger to save anybody from a burning car? Well, not me.  Asm. Curt Hagman(R-Chino HIlls) apparently saved two people from their burning car right outside of his apartment.

• The Meg Whitman for Governor campaign is getting a ton of attention from the media. And why not? She has so much experience lowering costs by outsourcing jobs and employing slave labor that she would certainly be able to build barbie dolls for our kids to hold while they aren’t attending public schools. As for fixing the state’s structural problems, well, I peg her chances somewhere between those of Gary Coleman and the Ask a Ninja guy. I take that back. Gary Coleman might be able to get us a payday loan, that’s probably better than Whitman could do.

There is a video on the SF Chronicle’s site. It’s almost funny how she tries to use the Arnold post-partisan rhetoric while at the same time trying to woo the crazy wingers that are in the GOP primary.  How exactly do you say that you would never vote to raise taxes at the same time that you are arguing that the legislators can’t see past their narrow ideological barriers.  The logic, or lack there of, of it all is just staggering.

• There could be another problem for Whitman: she’s not the typical GOP candidate, ie a white dude. The obstacles to her getting the GOP nomination are really quite staggering.  Honestly, if I were her, I would just say screw the GOP, I can win this without them.

• At least the stimulus will help out with the HSR plans.

CapAlert’s story about how Chuck DeVore tried and failed to remove Mike Villines from power, based apparently on a email between the two Republicans leaked to the John and Ken show that forced DeVore’s hand, is really symptomatic of Yacht Party politics and how the game is played.  It’s really like a junior-high playground over there, not a political party.  

• The idea that filmmaker Roman Polanski is seeking to get his child sex charges dismissed based on a separate filmmaker’s documentary about the case folds life and art on their collective heads in interesting ways such that the whole story becomes a kind of Moebius Strip… UPDATED the judge denied the motion for dismissal but suggested that he only did it because of Polanski’s fugitive status, and that there is credible evidence to dismiss the case.

• The funny caption contests are usually fun, but I have to say I find the selection of Schwarzenegger’s Finance Director Mike Genest’s caption of a picture with DiFi and CIA chief Leon Panetta sort of offensive, and clearly a partisan stab at our junior senator.  The caption? “As long as you’ll be working on Intelligence, can you do something for Senator Boxer’s?”

• This really isn’t anything new, but I wanted to once again commend John Myers of KQED for his tremendous Twitter feed.I think Myers is, if not revolutionizing, certainly evolving the journalistic use of twitter to cover a news-worthy event.  Last night I was at Drinking Liberally, but I was able to quickly pull up my twitter feed, and there was the latest budget news, in 140 character bites. Twitter allows real-time publishing that even puts blogs to shame. He has poured an incredible amount of time into these tweets, basically supplementing his additional workload.  If you can, please think about supporting the nation’s most listened to public radio station, KQED. I just renewed my membership. Please note your support for John Myers in the “comments” section. I forgot when I renewed, but I want to make sure he gets the credit he so richly deserves.

Field Poll Shows Narrow Lead for Prop 1A

Crossposted from the California High Speed Rail Blog

The Field Poll finally got around to polling Prop 1A and the results are about what I’d expected after six weeks of the Reason Foundation and the Howard Jarvis Association flooding the state’s media with lies. We have a 47-42 lead with 11% undecided. The common rule of thumb in California politics is that a proposition under 50% before election day is in serious trouble, but I’m not convinced that conventional wisdom will hold true this year. There are a number of propositions – such as 4 and 8 – that are also very closely split, and voters are showing a better understanding of the issues, with a reduced inclination to vote no as a knee-jerk reaction.

Still, the poll shows that we have a LOT of work to do between now and Tuesday. Especially when you look at the crosstabs.

Prop 1A will be decided on election day. Those who have already voted oppose it 39-51. That is very close to the number of McCain voters opposing Prop 1A, 35-56. Here in California absentee voters have traditionally leaned Republican and conservative. Those groups oppose Prop 1A – Republicans by a margin of 35-58 and conservatives by a margin of 30-64. Voters over age 65, those most likely to cast an absentee ballot, oppose it 38-53.

However, if California gets an Obama surge on election day, the outcome may be much different (preferences are listed in order of yes, no, and undecided):

Democrats: 53-30-17

Independents: 54-40-6

Moderates: 49-40-11

Liberals: 61-25-14

Obama: 56-33-11

Age 18-34: 50-38-12

If young voters in particular hit the polls in large numbers than we can win this on election day.

The Field Poll also breaks the numbers down by region, showing us where we need to focus our energies over the next three days:

LA County: 55-37-8

Other SoCal: 32-54-14

Central Valley: 49-46-5

Bay Area: 59-28-13

Other NorCal: 46-46-8

Looking at this I would write off “Other SoCal” and pour as many resources as possible into the Central Valley. Fresno, Bakersfield, and Sacramento among others ought to be pro-HSR given how much they will benefit from the system. Over the next few days local political leaders and respected state leaders – I’m looking at you, Dianne Feinstein and Arnold Schwarzenegger – need to get into the Central Valley, get themselves on local news, and promote the hell out of Prop 1A.

There is a large number of undecided voters in the Bay Area as well. They can and should be brought over to our side, likely with a strong push from environmental and transit groups. I don’t know if the Sierra Club has any money to put an ad up, or can do something to attract earned media, but that would be very helpful.

I know this site gets a lot of readers from around the pro-HSR community. So here is what I suggest our plans be for the next crucial three days:

Link Obama to HSR. Run some ads or print up some flyers or just plain talk about how Obama and Biden are strong HSR advocates. The purpose here is to ensure that Democrats and Obama voters are going to cast their ballots for Prop 1A as well.

The Central Valley is where we will win or lose. Get thee to Fresno (or Bakersfield or Sacramento) and explain to voters why this will be a godsend for the Valley. It will bring jobs and cheaper, more reliable transportation. Fresno will be under two hours from SF and LA. And it will reverse a long history of California neglecting the Valley’s infrastructure needs.

Emphasize the economic stimulus benefits of HSR. This message would play well in the Central Valley, the Bay Area, and perhaps even LA County and some other parts of SoCal. Prop 1A is a smart investment in jobs and growth. Leading economists like Paul Krugman are calling for deficit spending on infrastructure to rescue our economy. That message needs to get through.

Continue targeting young voters. CALPIRG has done excellent work here over the last few weeks but they need to be joined by other groups – Young Democrats and other groups. At San Diego State an environmentally-minded group of fraternities and sororities has been promoting Prop 1A.

Speak more about the environmental benefits in the Bay Area. Voters there are the most likely to be motivated by the considerable environmental and global warming-fighting benefits of HSR. If the Sierra Club has any last-minute resources to deploy, that would be very useful.

We can win this thing if we drive a big Obama turnout on Tuesday, ensure that people vote their entire ballot (or at least as far as the first proposition!) and that they vote YES on Prop 1A. The internals of the Field Poll look good for us, IF we can accomplish the turnout task. Let’s get to it!

Sacrificing the Future to the Failure of the Present

Or, why the Sac Bee and Modesto Bee are wrong to oppose Prop 1A.

California is staring into the abyss. 30 years of conservative economic policy, including tax cuts, have brought the national and the state economy to the worst economic crisis we have faced since 1933. The state budget is in perennial deficit – caused by those same conservative policies. Since Prop 13 in 1978 the state’s revenue levels have been set artificially and deliberately too low to maintain our core services. The purpose was to force crises like this and tell Californians “either we raise your taxes or we destroy government.”

The budget deficit is a difficult problem. But it can be closed fairly easily by returning to the income tax levels on the wealthy that Ronald Reagan supported, that were in place from 1991 to 1998.  It is a question of political will – our budget deficit is not a force of nature but a deliberate creation of man. What we make, we can unmake.

More importantly, how exactly are we going to close that budget deficit, provide short-term relief and long-term economic growth without infrastructure projects? Many economists argue that government spending on infrastructure must be part of not just an economic stimulus right now but also of any financial rescue plan. These economists understand what we at this blog have understood – that we need stimulus to revive our economy.

Banks aren’t lending just because of the bad assets on their books – they’re not lending because the economy is sliding into recession. To stop that we need government spending on new stimulus. That was conventional wisdom during the Depression and it eventually brought us out of the depths – while also setting up the prosperity of the postwar era.

Unfortunately California newspaper editorial boards remain trapped in the failed conventional wisdom that brought us to this point of crisis. Instead of returning to tried-and-true economic principles of infrastructure stimulus, they argue we should sacrifice the future to the failure of the present. That because we are in crisis now, we cannot act to rescue ourselves from that crisis, and cannot act to provide a more stable future.

Such is the position of the Modesto Bee in its editorial against Prop 1A and of the Sac Bee. They both claim it is “too costly for the state.” In doing so they merely demonstrate their lack of knowledge about high speed rail and their unwillingness to act to reverse the slide into severe recession.

Details over the flip.

From the Modesto Bee:

The annual cost to operate the high-speed rail network would exceed $1 billion. Backers believe they can operate in the black. We’re skeptical. Passenger rail systems throughout the United States require subsidies.

The Modesto Bee should NOT be skeptical. Every single HSR system around the world functions without operational subsidies. In France HSR is so profitable it subsidizes the other systems! Even Taiwan HSR has achieved profitability after just 18 months in operation. Of course we should remind the Modesto Bee that every other form of transportation in America is subsidized – but HSR stands on its merits. Ongoing subsidies are just not likely. The Modesto Bee misleads its readers in not mentioning that.

That aside, our main concern is the price. A review by the independent legislative analyst’s office says that if the bonds are sold at an average interest rate of 5 percent and paid off over 30 years, the cost to the state general fund would be about $19.4 billion. That works out to about $647 million per year.

State legislators struggle to produce a budget year after year, and the current budget, just signed, is expected to be nearly $5 billion in the red unless drastic action is taken. As we noted in opposing Proposition 3, California can ill afford to encumber the general fund with more debt, especially the staggering cost for high-speed rail.

The Modesto Bee and the Sac Bee, which used almost the same argument, would do well to read Pete Stahl’s “semi-biennial lecture on bonds”. Pete reminds us that bonds are a fixed cost over time that become much easier to pay off as general fund revenues increase. Further, HSR construction will actually BOOST the general fund by providing increased income tax and sales tax revenue. Combined with the green dividend from HSR it is likely that it will pay for itself – the benefits to the general fund will equal or outweigh the ongoing bond service costs.

Newspapers like the Modesto and Sacramento Bee are suggesting that we were wrong to build Shasta Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge during the Great Depression. Both required public bond financing to be constructed. Modesto and Sacramento STILL benefits from Shasta Dam water. Instead, according to papers like the Sac and Modesto Bee, we should have waited until the 1950s. Of course that would come at the cost of not only higher unemployment during the Depression – which is the last thing you need – but it would have limited our ability to have postwar growth.

The equation is very simple, people. Prop 1A = jobs now + long-term economic growth. California would be engaging in an act of extreme recklessness if it sacrificed the future because of the failures of the present. The best way to ensure that we continue to have unemployment and a budget deficit is to reject Prop 1A.

Arnold Admits Defeat, Abandons “No Signatures” Pledge

Arnold is admitting defeat with his petulant “I won’t sign any bills” nonsense, which has accomplished exactly zero progress on the budget while confusing the fall ballot picture. He will sign AB 3034 today which will replace the existing high speed rail Proposition 1 with Proposition 1A. Prop 1A is a slightly modified version of Prop 1 with more fiscal oversight, clearer rules on public-private partnerships, and some environmental rules that the Sierra Club had sought.

It was believed that the final deadline for changes to the November ballot was Sunday, but according to the Fresno Bee “the governor’s office thinks there are a few days left.”

While it’s good to see Arnold getting back to the process of governing, the whole sorry episode is another example of his failed tenure as our governor. Petulance isn’t leadership.

More at the California High Speed Rail Blog.