The Corner

It Takes a True Detective to Understand California’s High-Speed Rail Plans

From the Thursday Morning Jolt:

It Takes a True Detective to Understand California’s High-Speed Rail Plans

The best part of the new season of “True Detective” on HBO is that a major plot point is sleazy, mob-connected businessmen talking about federal funding for California’s high-speed rail project as a giant way to line their pockets.

Vince Vaughn plays a ruthless, ambitious mob-connected businessman who yearns to be a legitimate, respected mogul. In the opening episode, he’s at a giant party/unveiling for the project. One of his partners, a corrupt official in the fictional city of Vinci, California, just outside Los Angeles, hasn’t arrived on the meeting – on account of his recent murder – and Vaughn’s character sums up the pending deal for the guests:

Our city manager Ben Caspere was going to be here to explain this, but I suppose I can approximate the information.

So everybody knows Proposition 1 has passed.

And next year construction will start on a $68 billion high-speed rail up Central California.

An undeveloped valley adjacent to the rail and the coastal highway has been purchased by several holding companies anticipating a commercial development that will be in line for hundreds of millions in federal grants.

And the feds have guaranteed cost overages.

Trust him. He’s money, baby.

Have we seen ever seen a movie or television show bad guy whose plans involve a high-speed rail project before? Can you believe that HBO is portraying Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature legacy project in such a negative light?

Later, in a meeting with a more menacing, Eastern European gangster, Vaughn’s character declares,

[The city of] Vinci tapped fed money from the subway line, and the same thing will happen on a much, much bigger scale with the rail corridor. Owned by our holding companies.

In real life, the first segment of the initial rail line, running from Madera to Bakersfield, will cost $6 billion, consisting of $3.3 billion in federal funding and $2.6 billion in Proposition 1A bond proceeds. The California High-Speed Rail Authority declares, “Development of the [initial operating system] will be funded through government sources, while private-sector capital will fund future construction segments once the system is generating positive cash flow.”

In June 2013, the California High-Speed Rail Authority awarded the first contract – nearly $1 billion. Construction began in the middle of last month

Some California Republicans and a few Democrats are attempting to stop the project from going any further, arguing it has changed completely from its initial proposal and there’s no reason to expect anything other than more delays, cost overruns, and legal fights:

State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, has introduced bipartisan legislation to allow California voters to reconsider the state’s controversial high-speed rail project.

Vidak’s measure would allow voters to weigh in on whether they want to continue funding the $68 billion project. It would also forbid any more spending on the project until a vote on June 6, 2016. The bill would redirect the unspent money toward road repair and construction.

Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, is co-sponsoring the bill.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s pursuit of eminent domain land takings on the proposed alignment through Kings County has generated strong opposition and lawsuits from local residents and county government.

The authority is trying to drum up interest from the private sector for the project, but has so far failed to get private investment to help make up a financing shortfall of tens of billions of dollars.

And Republicans in Congress are making an attempt as well:

Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, of Turlock, has tried twice before to defund high-speed rail with an amendment, but he’s not giving up.

On Tuesday night Denham spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives and declared, “I’m here one more year offering an amendment to end this incredible waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Denham’s amendment forces the California High Speed Rail Authority to prove it can independently match nearly $3 billion in federal funds — or potentially lose that money.

On Wednesday Denham said he doesn’t believe that California can afford it.

“We are $87 billion short,” Denham said. “The governor’s not proposing $87 billion. The president’s not proposing $87 billion. So, we’re really leaving the state of California at risk.”

Records show the project has spent nearly $900 million so far.

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