So the Peer Review Group tapped by the Legislature to review the bullet train project looks at the latest iteration of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s business plan and, as the L.A. Times reports, “raised serious doubts about almost every aspect of the project and concluded that the current plan ‘is not financially feasible’” — the latest in a “string of negative assessments from the state auditor, the state inspector general, the legislative analyst, the UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies” — and what does the gov do? In an e-mail, Brown spokesman Gil Duran said the report “does not appear to add any arguments that are new or compelling enough to suggest a change in course.” Sheesh. What would Brown accept as a “compelling enough” argument? The bullet train causes pancreatic cancer in a quarter of all riders? The bullet train will turn California into West New Jersey? The bullet train will make people like Sarah Palin?
Sheesh. Once again, it’s time to wonder about the conventional wisdom that Jerry Brown is a political ultra-sophisticate who is playing chess when the rest of Sacramento is playing checkers. In an era of severe budget pain, how is it savvy to offer unwavering support for a boondoggle as immense as this $98 billion-plus white elephant in waiting? In an era of intense public cynicism about government waste and transparency, how is it savvy to push a project that besides all its other flaws appears to break both state and federal law?
But most of all, how is it savvy for Brown to tie himself at the hip to the nincompoops at the California High-Speed Rail Authority? Talk about the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. For years, the authority has put out disinformation about project ridership, project cost, ticket cost, interest of private investors, support from local governments, support from Wall Street, etc. This campaign of deceit wasn’t just comic boosterism; at a key point in the debate over the project, it was downright sinister. The CHSRA kept a crucial detail from the public until after a November 2008 vote to provide nearly $10 billion in taxpayer seed money: that it assumed further taxpayer subsidies would be needed to build the bullet train. Subsides that the law providing the nearly $10 billion said were illegal.
We’re in an era in which there is vast angst and anger over large institutions on Wall Street lying to us and getting away with financial murder during the 2008 economic meltdown. Now we’re seeing the public sector equivalent unfold with what would be the largest public works project in U.S. history. And Jerry Brown is siding with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and Lehman Brothers?
This isn’t chess. Chess should sue Jerry Brown for libel.