By Steven T. Jones
After being called out by the Guardian as the main obstacle to building a high-speed rail system in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote an op-ed in the Fresno Bee over the weekend claiming to enthusiastically support the project. That's good news and a sign that project supporters are making progress. Unfortunately, the op-ed continues the governor's deceptive approach to the issue as it omits inconvenient facts and makes false claims.
Schwarzenegger makes it sounds like the California High-Speed Rail Authority has no plan for financing this project, yet matching private funds have always been part of the plan. And unlike the water project that the governor uses as a point of comparison, studies show high-speed rail will be a money maker and therefore a fairly easy sell to private equity firms.
But even taking Schwarzenegger at his word that we need a more detailed financial plan, he never mentions the fact that he has proposed indefinitely delaying next year's bond issue or explains why the financial plan can't be developed in the 18 months before that election takes place.
That sin of omission is compounded by an outright lie when he says that he fully funded the CHSRA last year and "my budget proposes additional funding" this year. The reality is he proposes slashing last year's budget of $14.5 million down to $1.2 million this year, despite the fact that CHSRA staff say they need $103 million to honor its contracts and move the project forward. Even the Legislative Analyst's Office has said the Legislature should just scrap the project if it isn't willing to spend more than Schwarzenegger proposes.
He also continues the effort of his spokespeople and appointees to misrepresent the project costs by comparing the $10 billion bond issue for the Los Angeles to San Francisco link to the $40 billion price tag for the whole system, which will eventually stretch from Sacramento to San Diego.
But let's try to focus on the positive. Schwarzenegger has been this project's biggest roadblock, and now he says that he supports it and wants to quickly move it forward.
"Yet even the authority's executive director, Mehdi Morshed, says the longer the state waits to build a high-speed rail network, the more expensive it will get. I could not agree more. That's why I have directed my recent appointees to work with the authority and its financial advisers to develop a comprehensive plan for financing the project in its entirety, so we can make high-speed rail a reality in California once and for all," Schwarzenegger wrote.
Does that mean that he's willing to fund the agency this year and drop his request to indefinitely push back the bond issue? Only if he's actually being honest about his support for the project. It's now up to the Legislature to make the governor keep his word and to finally move this important project forward.