California Gov. Gavin Newsom, under budgetary pressure to provide more government health care for illegal immigrants and more housing for the working poor, just threw the Green New Deal’s nationwide train network under the bus by canceling the state’s high-speed rail project.
Speaking Tuesday at his first State of the State address, Gov. Newsom admitted there “simply isn’t a path” to finish the train.
Instead of running 520 miles, connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles, Newsom proposed that the system will run just 150 miles – in the middle of the state’s Central Valley agricultural region – connecting Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced (with a population of about one million of the state’s 40 million residents).
Initially sold to the public as a clean, high-speed way to get from the Bay Area to L.A. for about the time and cost of an airplane ticket, the government train project was promised to cost $40 billion with no tax money to operate. With big companies and organized labor promoting the plan, it passed with 52.7 percent of the vote in 2008 (an election with Obama at the top of the ticket).
Reality quickly mugged the dream. Soon after the voters approved borrowing almost $10 billion to kickstart the project, planners were forced to admit that instead of being operational by 2022 and costing $33 billion, the effort would consume $77 billion to $98 billion and take years longer to finish.
Furthermore, instead of traveling from L.A. to San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes – compared to commercial flights taking an hour, plus TSA security time — the travel time for the fastest train stretched out to more than 3 hours.
The projected ticket prices doubled – more than airfare would cost – as expected ridership plummeted.
Lastly, not a penny of the billions in expected private investment ever materialized, leaving California and federal tax payers on the hook for billions, with about $3.5 billion in federal funds spent and about a similar amount of state funds – much of it from California’s costly cap-and-trade climate change program, which has increased gasoline prices by 10-12 cents per gallon.
A spokesperson for Gov. Newsom insisted that the governor really isn’t canceling the project, he’s simply trying to finish what was started while working on environmental planning for the longer route, “…that would allow the project to continue seeking other funding streams.”
What he really meant to say is that California wants to avoid being found in breach of its agreement with the federal government and at risk of having to refund $3.5 billion.
So California will pretend to work on the train to avoid having to return the billions – money that could be repurposed to pay for more than half of President Trump’s wall. In the meantime, at the rate money is being spent on the project, it would take more than 100 years to finish.
That California, America’s most populous state led by its most progressive politicians, would abandon a government-run high-speed rail system within a week of the Green New Deal’s introduction in Congress says much about the Green New Deal’s viability.
The Green New Deal plan, introduced on Feb. 7 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez , D-NY, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., calls for “investing in … high-speed rail” as part of a 10-year national effort. The FAQ accompanying the congressional resolution, since removed from Ocasio-Cortez’s website, envisioned a “build(ing) out (of) high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.”
It’s important to note here that California voters approved their high-speed rail project more than 10 years ago — and not a single passenger has yet ridden the train. And there’s no operational date in sight.
The fact is that America is a continental nation. They may have high-speed trains in France and Japan, but Texas is the size of France and California is about the size of Japan. Most Americans would scoff at the quaint notion of boarding a train in Boston and arriving in L.A. 15 hours later.
The Green New Deal’s dirty little secret is this: its revolutionary backers want to make cars and planes so expensive to use that only the rich will be able to afford them. The rest of us can take the train – whenever it arrives at the station.
This commentary was originally published in Fox News on February 13, 2019.
Chuck DeVore is Vice President of National Initiatives for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.