California Governor Gavin Newsom is scrapping plans to build a high-speed rail line to connect the northern and southern regions of the state. In his first state of the state address, the newly elected Democrat told state lawmakers that he didn’t want to return $3.5 billion in federal aid, nor “waste the billions already spent on the project.” His new plan calls for a massive reduction in the scope of the project, focusing instead on only a short run of track spanning less than 170 miles in the heart of the state’s agricultural region in Central California:
In his first State of the State speech Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for the state to scale back the focus of its high speed rail project to focus on one portion in the Central Valley.
He said there’s “simply isn’t a path” to build high speed rail to connect the northern and southern parts of the state. But the rail line can link Central Valley cities Merced and Bakersfield, he said.
In 2011, former Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected more than $2 billion in federal matching funds for a high speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa, prompting then-President Barack Obama to make a big deal out of awarding Florida’s billions to California. But read the New York Times’ explanation for why Scott rejected the funding:
“Mr. Scott said at a news conference in Tallahassee on Wednesday that cost overruns related to the Tampa-to-Orlando line could leave Florida taxpayers stuck with a $3 billion tab. Further, he said that if the state deemed the project too costly after having started construction, it would be required to return the $2.4 billion to the federal government. He also said he believed that estimates of riders and revenue for the rail line were too optimistic, and that state taxpayers would have been left to pay for subsidies to keep the line running because it would be unable to pay for itself.”
It turns out Scott’s instincts were right. This is exactly what happened in California. Initial estimates for the California train were floated at $33 billion, but those numbers were absurdly low, with the LA Times reporting a wide range of vastly fluctuating estimates, acknowledging some as high as $117 billion. Cost overruns eventually forced California’s state government to scale back their plans to a still-absurd $77 billion.
Newsom has seems to have realized that even $77 billion is more than his nearly bankrupt state government can bear. His unexpected announcement threw the left-leaning media for a loop today, with news sites like Huffington Post emphasizing that he’s not “abandoning” high-speed rail.
Indeed not. California can’t abandon those plans entirely because, like Rick Scott warned, the federal government will want it’s billions of dollars in matching funds back. So California is going to spend those tax dollars, and billions more, on a useless boondoggle that Florida’s leaders knew all along was a sucker’s bet.