June 12, 2014
Enough with the high-speed rail lunacy.
The Legislature at a minimum has to re-establish its own credibility in having passed AB 32, the greenhouse gas reduction law, in 2006. But it also should withdraw its support for the bullet train and tell the governor to give it up.
Brown has been the voice of reason on many other budget issues, including the need to build a rainy-day fund as California's economic outlook brightens. But his fixation on high-speed rail defies logic.
The cap-and-trade program in AB 32 creates incentives to cut greenhouse gas emissions and allows polluters to buy credits if they can't. The goal was to cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
Even the most starry-eyed believers in the bullet train would not claim it'll be running in six years, let alone producing cost-effective environmental gains. Using cap-and-trade revenues for this purpose is legally questionable at best. Critics from the start said the revenue would just become a slush fund, and Brown wants to prove them right.
The Legislature should set rigorous, performance-based standards for the use of cap-and-trade dollars to achieve the goal by 2020. Fortunately, there are plenty of feasible projects that would, for example, increase affordable housing near employment centers to cut long commutes and expand cities' public transit. Both could swiftly produce gains.
The budget deal reportedly would send only 15 percent of the cap-and-trade money to local transportation projects, 20 percent to affordable housing and the remaining 40 percent to a combination of energy and natural resources projects. All of these could pay off by 2020.
Brown knows he's going to get re-elected. But he also knows the original, $10 billion high-speed rail line approved by voters in 2008 is a far cry from the $68 billion (and growing) project now under consideration.
The Legislature also has backed high-speed rail, but it should draw the line at siphoning away cap-and-trade revenue for it. Brown wants the train as his legacy, but this scheme smacks of desperation.
Instead he and the Legislature should go back to voters to ask if they support the stripped down bullet train now planned at exponentially higher cost.
The Legislature's approval of AB32 was one of California's proudest moments of the past decade. It set a standard for the nation. The Legislature has an obligation to maintain its integrity.
Lawmakers face a constitutional deadline to pass a budget by Sunday or their paychecks stop. There's still time. They need to stand up for the emissions law and tell Brown to look elsewhere to bankroll his bullet train -- or, better still, forget it.