In State of State, Governor Brown Stands Behind High Speed Rail

Jan 18, 2012

In his State of the State address today, Governor Jerry Brown didn’t give an inch on the state’s embattled high-speed rail plan.  Likening the project to the launching of BART, the Panama Canal, and the Suez Canal, Brown said: “Those who believe California is in decline will naturally shrink back from such a strenuous undertaking,” he said. “I understand that feeling, but I don’t share it.”

Although California faces a $9.2 billion deficit, Gov. Brown strongly reasserted his support for high-speed rail, which is currently projected to cost $100 billion. This support is in the context of a speech optimistic about the state’s future, but almost completely focused on raising taxes to stave off further deep cuts to the state’s already beleaguered public education system.

Brown said that “Contrary to those critics who fantasize that California is a failed state, I see unspent potential and incredible opportunity.”

The rail project is on shaky ground after a series of high-level resignations from the High Speed Rail Authority Board last week coupled with polls showing voter disapproval and a government-appointed panel report earlier this month that recommended against state funding for the project.

In a press conference following the address, Speaker of the Assembly John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) said that in a time of high unemployment, projects like high-speed rail make sense for the state. “Many of the arguments that have been used today against high speed rail were used against water infrastructure, were used against highways, and were used against all of the major infrastructure developments that we now take for granted,” he said.

Legislative Republicans did not specifically address high-speed rail, but criticized the call for higher taxes in a response accidentally released a day before Gov. Brown’s speech.

Republican state senator, Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) released a statement after the address critical of Brown’s recent proposal to create a new state Transportation Agency,  consolidating departments like the High Speed Rail Authority and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

“The Governor and I have discussed Caltrans and High Speed Rail a number of times and I have been very encouraging with him,” said Anderson. “He needs to implement major reforms at Caltrans immediately…He also need to cut the state’s losses on High Speed Rail and end this scam now.”

In his speech, Governor Brown said that a revised high-speed rail business plan will be out in several weeks, and that “Without any hesitation, I urge your approval.” The public comment period for the business plan ended earlier this week.

You can read the full text of the speech here

An excerpt is below.

“Now, just as bold is our plan to build a high-speed rail system, connecting the northern and southern part of our state. This is not a new idea. As governor last time I signed legislation to study the concept. Now, 30 years later, we’re within weeks of a revised business plan that will enable us to begin initial construction before the year is out.

President Obama strongly supports the project, and has provided the majority of funds for the first phase.  It’s now your decision to evaluate the plan and decide what action to take. Without hesitation, I urge your approval (applause). If you believe that California will continue to grow, as I do, and that millions more people will be living in our state, this is a wise investment. Building new runways, and expanding our airports and highways, is the only alternative. That is not cheaper, and will face even more political opposition. Those who believe California is in decline will naturally shrink back from such a strenuous undertaking. I understand that feeling, but I don’t share it. Because I know this state, and the spirit of the people who chose to live here. California is still the Gold Mountain that Chinese immigrants in 1848 came across the Pacific to find. The wealth is different, derived as it is, not from mining the Sierras but from the creative imagination of those who invent and build and generate the ideas that drive our economy forward.

Critics of the high-speed rail project abound as they often do when something of this magnitude is proposed. During the 1930’s, The Central Valley Water Project was called a “fantastic dream” that “will not work.” The Master Plan for the Interstate Highway System in 1939 was derided as “new Deal jitterbug economics.” In 1966, then Mayor Johnson of Berkeley called BART a “billion dollar potential fiasco.” Similarly, the Panama Canal was for years thought to be impractical and Benjamin Disraeli himself said of the Suez Canal: “totally impossible.” The critics were wrong then and they’re wrong now.

This report is made possible by a collaboration with Transportation Nation.