As we have noted, California’s vaunted $68 billion “bullet train” is unpopular with taxpayers but a big hit with politicians, always eager for a new place to spend. So no surprise that the train to nowhere has already succeeded in bulking up government. Last year California’s High-Speed Rail Authority nearly tripled its staff to 116 employees, and payroll soared from $2.5 million to almost $7 million. Now, according to Chris Megerian of the Los Angeles Times, “California’s controversial bullet train would receive hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming year under a budget deal reached by Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers.”
The deal is “a critical step toward beginning construction as the project continues to face legal and political challenges.” The money “would be drawn from the cap-and-trade program, which charges fees to polluters who emit greenhouse gases above certain limits. Under the budget deal, $250 million would be allocated to high-speed rail in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. In each following year, the bullet train would receive 25 percent of cap-and-trade revenue.” That revenue was not intended for rail construction, so court challenges will surely follow.
Further, as the Sacramento Bee noted, “the amount falls short of the 33 percent Brown initially wanted, but is more than Senate Democrats proposed.” The cap-and-trade funding “though insufficient alone to fund construction, holds the promise of a perpetual revenue stream—one not controlled by the federal government.” That will bring joy to spenders in Sacramento but not to taxpayers. The project would doubtless cost much more than $68 billion and even if completed would still be slower and more expensive than air travel.
The bullet train spending comes in a high-tax state that deploys an onerous regulatory regime that is driving business to other states. The state economy has yet to recover, and California faces about $340 billion in unfunded liabilities for pensions and retiree health care. Even so, it’s “all aboard” for more spending on the bullet train boondoggle.