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Helicopters have proven their worth in fighting the wildfires that devastate California. Cal Fire, the state agency in charge of these operations, wants to replace its aging fleet of Huey helicopters. The legislature set aside the money and launched a bidding process that took two years, and as the Sacramento Bee reports, “rejected the low bidder, Italian manufacturer AgustaWestland, each time.” Those helicopters cost $16 million each but Cal Fire wants the Black Hawk, which Cal Fire bosses claim will meet the agency’s needs for 20 years. Trouble is, “the helicopters in Brown’s budget request run about $24 million a pop, more than double the low bid of $11.4 million.” Cal Fire wants 12 of the Black Hawks, so “the original low bid swells to north of $100 million.” The AgustaWestland AW189 was capable of hovering at 14,200 feet but the Black Hawk got the nod and the governor wants to start spending the money. Whether the Black Hawk’s firefighting performance matches its upscale price has yet to be determined, but some lessons are already clear for the state’s embattled taxpayers.
The government likes to spend money and shows no preference for the lowest bidder on any project. When government is the buyer, things will always cost more than advertised. In the case of the Black Hawks, it is more than double the original cost but that is no guideline. The new span of the Bay Bridge, for example, cost about five times its original $1.5 billion estimate. Apply that to the governor’s $16 billion delta tunnel and costs soar to some $80 billion. By the bridge standard, the vaunted bullet train, now estimated at $77 billion, could wind up at $385 billion, or more. And like the new span of the Bay Bridge, neither project is necessary.
The tycoon Nelson Rockefeller always needed “a little more” money to keep him happy. With government it’s always a lot more.