USC’s Jim Moore on High Speed Rail defunding in the LA Times

Jim Moore is the chair of the Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at USC. He has a Op-Ed in the LA Times which ran last Monday. Tune in here.

The congressional action means that California will not get the $19 billion in federal grant support the authority was counting on receiving by 2016, nor (almost certainly) the $2.4 billion in grants that Florida’s governor declined. Technically, Congress’ agreement did not rescind roughly $3.75 billion in federal grants to California, but this commitment is also at risk. About $715 million has not been obligated and could be easily rescinded. The remainder of these funds is obligated, and rescinding them would be more difficult but not impossible.

California taxpayers would benefit greatly from rescission, because every dollar Congress finds the courage to rescind from the California rail project is a dollar the state no longer has to match.

Given Jim’s previous research, I suspect that Jim would argue that HSR is just plain a bad investment overall. We’ve not discussed it.

Advocates of high speed rail have tried various attempts to portray HSR opponents as backwards or ignorant or part of the “culture war.” The latest attempt came from Steven Harrod on Harrod, an operations research guy, makes a bunch of arguments, all of which boil down to “those Tea Party people are parochial and ignorant and just don’t get how great trains are.” They associate trains with Europe and socialism and values they fear.

Or, alternatively, these iggnerant people recognize a massively expensive public project without a sustainable finance plan when they see one.

High Speed Rail advocates made it very very easy for the Tea party and the Republicans to shoot this proposal down. Every time somebody criticized their “plan”, they responded with “these critics are mean bad poopyheads” instead of strengthening their plan by addressing those criticisms. HSR blogs and commenters have tried to bully and outshout any criticism, no matter how reasonable or valid, rather than shore up their plans.

Thus, when the plan went national, it had political and budgetary holes that helped people unsympathetic to the plan to kill it off.

By refusing to acknowledge that there is no free money out there, high speed rail advocates have put their own projects at odds people like me, who would normally be sympathetic but who hate using general fund revenues for transportation projects when user-based revenues can and should pay for part (not all–nobody said all) of the project’s bond obligations.

Note: I voted no on Prop 1a, which unfortunately passed, which sought $10B in high speed rail funding for California based on general obligation bonds.

I would have considered voting yes on a Proposition 1a that proposed to raise the California gas tax by 3 cents for special fund to seed high speed rail infrastructure bonds until the service was up and running.

I have no fear of Europe (except for some of those men in Speedos, and some of those little old ladies on the subway have really sharp pokey fingers to get you to move when they want past you). I am not afraid of socialism. I am not backwards midwesterner who has never outside my state line, let alone never traveled on a fancy Asian train. I am not a member of the Tea Party. I even gots me a fancy PhD.

I just like to know that when we plan a big project we have a grown-up financing plan behind it.

2 thoughts on “USC’s Jim Moore on High Speed Rail defunding in the LA Times

  1. Believe it or not, I actually voted against 1A too. I like your idea of raising the gas tax to pay for it. The problem is it’s much easier in California to borrow money (majority vote) than to raise taxes (2/3 vote).

    If you think about it, we should never be able to pass a ballot initiative that borrows money without some kind of realistic plan to pay that money back.

    But Prop 13 makes that pretty damn hard.

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