Kern officials propose shift in HSR funding

Kern officials propose shift in HSR fundingBy REBECCA NEIPP

News Review Staff Writer

Following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s tepid criticism of California’s High Speed Rail project, more conservative leaders are calling for abandonment of the project — with some of Kern County’s highest-ranking electeds calling for financial support to be redirected toward resolving state woes.

At his State of the State address last month, the Democratic governor said that his predecessor’s vision of “bullet train” — plagued by countless scandals and drastic overspending — was not achievable. He proposed finishing the Central Valley portion of the project, but not the state-traversing rail first proposed.

Critics have pointed out that the Central Valley portion has the least amount of ridership, and that with the shortened span the project ceases to classify as “high speed.”

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Kern County Board of Supervisors, 2nd District Supervisor Zack Scrivner introduced a resolution calling on the California High Speed Rail Authority to abandon the project entirely.

Supervisors, including 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason (who represents the IWV), voted 4-1 to pass the resolution.

“At its best, the so-called ‘bullet train’ was nothing more than a pie-in-the-sky idea sold to California voters in 2008 as a way to produce more jobs, cleaner air, less congestion, etc., at a ‘modest’ $9 billion,” Scrivner wrote in an op-ed last week.

Today, the cost of the project has skyrocketed to $77 billion — tearing up land, yielding massive concrete structures — with no actual rail service in operations.

Scrivner said even the CHSRA’s findings have identified flawed decision-making and ongoing poor contract management, which have contributed to the billions in cost overruns.

“Instead, the billions already out on bonds (a government term for a taxpayer-backed credit card) should be redirected to projects that will truly benefit Californians — and all those traveling on our highways.”

Scrivner pointed to crumbling highways in the Central Valley that could better benefit from those funds.

However, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Assemblyman Vince Fong are also introducing legislation to redirect that money to fund water solutions.

McCarthy called the project “a boondoggle that California and American taxpayers must move on from.”

He suggested repurposing the $3.5 billion in federal funding, originally directed to CHSRA, to funding water storage and infrastructure projects outlined in the bipartisan “WIIN” Act (Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation). “California has experienced more than five years of drought, and people across the state have felt the consequences with entire communities on the brink of disaster due to lack of winter.”

His proposed “RAILWAY Act” will address the crisis by funding infrastructure to capture and storage during wet years, to offset drought affliction during dry years.

“The RAILWAY Act builds on the success of the WIIN Act by continuing to increase California’s drought resiliency and helping ensure our communities, families and farmers have access to life-sustaining water.”

From the lower house of the California Legislature, Fong introduced Assembly Bill 435 to prohibit additional bonds from being sold for high-speed rail purposes, and redirecting unspent bonds for water infrastructure projects in the Central Valley.

The repurposing will go into effect pending voter support in the 2020 general election.

“Gov. Newsom acknowledged that this project is over-budget and lacks transparency, while attempting to significantly downsize the project. Putting lipstick on a pig will not prevent this project from continuing to be plagued with setbacks and false promises.”

At press time, no proposal adjustment action has been taken. at either the state or federal level.

Story First Published: 2019-03-15