High Speed Rail Just Became a Big Issue in the Governor’s Race

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

No avoiding the high-speed rail issue in the governor’s race now that the California State Auditor has been authorized to take a deep dive into the troubled project. The audit will take six to nine months according to the auditor. Assuming the more likely longer time frame the auditor’s report will come down in October right as the governor’s race hits the home stretch.

Depending what the audit reveals will determine how hot an issue the bullet train becomes. But the long history of cost overruns, highlighted by the recent report that the first leg of track costs an additional $2.8 billion, casts an ominous cloud over the project.

Democratic candidates vying for the governor’s office in particular have tried to steer away from the rail, offering tepid support so as not to offend the train’s greatest proponent, Gov. Jerry Brown, who still has great influence with party voters. But the recent cost projection even moved Democrats in the legislature to endorse an audit of the system.

The audit request was offered by Democrat Jim Beall, the Senate Transportation Committee Chair, and Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson.

Patterson has been seeking an audit for some time. In a release after Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved a comprehensive audit of the bullet train, Patterson stated,  “Even project managers have admitted to serious funding issues that have made a true north to south high-speed train impossible to complete as approved by voters. The High Speed Rail Authority will now answer to the auditor and we will all finally get the non-partisan, independent reality check we’ve been asking for.”

The prime concern of the audit will be cost questions, but the audit will range over other topics including the economic impact the project has on communities where the construction is taking place.

Gubernatorial candidates (as well as other candidates) will have to squarely face the issue of the high-speed rail’s value and true cost to taxpayers when the audit is released during the heat of a political campaign.

Perhaps Governor Brown is sensing the pressure closing in on the project he championed for so long. His recent edict to put 5 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2030 comes with a price tag of $2.5 billion for subsidizing electric vehicle purchases and establishing vehicle-charging stations. He can pursue his goal of combating climate change–which he uses as a reason for promoting the high speed rail– by directing money from what could be a dying bullet train to the electric vehicle order.

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