Infrastructure: California Gov. Gavin Newsom just pulled the plug on the state’s bullet train boondoggle. President Trump should demand the $3.5 billion the federal government dumped into this black hole back, so he can put it to better use building the border wall.
In his State of the State speech, Newsom said he was shelving plans for a high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles. A plan plagued with endless delays and massive cost overruns.
“The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long,” he said. “There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”
Bullet Train To Nowhere
Before you celebrate the sudden outbreak of common sense in California, Newsom made it clear that he still wants a bullet train that runs from Merced to Bakersfield.
For those unfamiliar with California geography, Merced is a town in California’s Central Valley, about 100 miles away from San Francisco. Its population is a mere 82,000.
Bakersfield (population 365,000) is almost 100 miles shy of Los Angeles. In between the two is Fresno, population 428,000. Other than that, there’s pretty much nothing.
So, Newsom plans to dump another $7.6 billion — on top of the $3 billion the state has already spent — over the next three years to build a 119-mile high-speed rail that goes from nowhere, to nowhere.
As Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen aptly observed: “We’re going to put more billions into a train in a place where there is no ridership and no freight will be hauled. What economy is that going to improve in the Central Valley? “
Newsom’s reason for keeping this zombie infrastructure project going makes even less sense.
“Abandoning high-speed rail entirely,” he says, “means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it.”
So, he wants to waste billions more just to save face?
Wasted Federal Grant Money
The real reason is what Newsom said next: Abandoning the project entirely would mean “sending $3.5 billion in federal funding back to Donald Trump.”
Turns out the federal government gave the state $3.5 billion to help finance this boondoggle, as part of President Obama’s 2009 “stimulus” plan.
Of that, California has so far spent roughly $2.5 billion.
The state was supposed to match that grant money dollar for dollar. But thanks to a sweetheart amendment to the original deal made in 2012, it was able to spend the federal money first, without matching it.
As a result, while California had poured $3 billion into the bullet train by the end of last year, only 15% of it came from state funds, according to the High-Speed Rail Authority.
Whether Newsom tries to finish his bullet train to nowhere or not, he should still have to send back the entire $3.5 billion.
Fund the Border Wall
After all, the federal money was contingent on California’s meeting certain obligations spelled out in the original agreement — which it clearly isn’t going to.
One of them was to build an “intercity passenger rail service.” Running tracks between two sparsely populated areas in rural California hardly counts.
The agreement also required the state to conduct the project “in a sound, economical, and efficient manner.” Newsom himself admitted that this hasn’t been the case.
In fact, the Department of Transportation’s inspector general is right now looking into whether California “complied with the applicable laws and regulations” when it spent the grant money.
The terms also stipulated that California had to be able to “complete the project in accordance with the terms of this agreement.”
That, too, is now off the table.
So, Trump should insist that California return its ill-gotten grant money. And then he could add those funds to the $1.4 billion Congress has already agreed to give him for the border wall.
Trading a pointless, wasteful infrastructure boondoggle for something that would actually benefit the nation would be a win for everyone. Except maybe Gavin Newsom.
Update: Last night, President Trump tweeted that “California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars. They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a ‘green’ disaster!”
That prompted a response from Newsom, who tweeted: “Fake news. We’re building high-speed rail, connecting the Central Valley and beyond. This is CA’s money, allocated by Congress for this project. We’re not giving it back. The train is leaving the station — better get on board! (Also, desperately searching for some wall $$??)”
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Author: JOHN MERLINE