Governor Brown claims balanced budgets, pension reforms, and a fiscal house now fully in order following the release of his latest budget. Of course, that wall of debt is going nowhere, and Brown acknowledged that in addition to a rainy day fund, he will devote some of the state's new revenues to paying down the pension liabilities, which have not really been reformed at all.
There's also talk of expanded spending into public education, and taking funds from the Cap and Trade program to finance the billion dollar bullet train boondoggle. Critics have rebuffed the Governor for tapping one revenue source dedicated to fighting greenhouse gases, but the consensus among even liberal lawmakers, such as Fran Pavley (at least during her 2012 campaign for office), have argued that the project should be shelved until a later date, after the state's economy improves (if it ever does).
Central valley farmers have actively resisted the high speed rail project, which will force them off their land, all in the name of eminent domain and possible revenue source based on tourism and business travel. Conservative groups have certainly blasted the bullet train, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which compared the profligate project to "the walking dead".
In addition to the grassroots resistance to the train, the courts have weighed in. In late November 2013, Sacramento Judge Michael Kenny effectively and indefinitely blocked the bullet train project, citing that the first stretch of rail did not meet the environmental and financial standards outlined in the 2008 voter-approved initiative. State leaders must redesigned the funding sources, and they cannot rely on bond measures to do so.
Once in a while, state courts issue wise rulings, especially in the face of cost overruns threatening to run the state of California aground.
At this junction, or rather juncture, I have to ask: why did California voters approve this outrageously ridiculous and costly project in the first place? The law passed by a 52% margin, relying mostly on coastal constituencies for support, even though the train would bulldoze through homes and farms in the Central Valley. Is anyone surprised to see rural and agricultural interests raising their ire against Sacramento micromanaging, or the rising secession movement within the state? Governor Schwarzenegger shoulders part of the blame, too, along with the liberal majorities in the state legislature for pushing this project onto the voters. Much like Brown's Prop 30 tax increases on small businesses and the dwindling minority of wealthy people in the state, Sacramento politicians allow interest groups (building and trade unions) to seduce a (slim) majority of voters to approve tax increases, and then politicians can rest on the faulty assumption that they did not raise the taxes, but that Californians did.
Brown is not backing away from the bullet train, though, and as referenced before he has discussed taking funds from the Cap and Trade program to finance the first portions of the train's rail. His argument? Since the train will run on electricity as opposed to fossil fuels, the project is contributing to green energy and less pollution. Environmentalists are panning Brown's proposal, inadvertently exposing a growing fissure within the Democratic Party nationally as well as locally. Unions want big, public projects to strengthen their ranks an increase their funding (like XL Keystone). The green lobby wants to protect the green with the public's green, and any remaining reform-minded and responsible Democrats want the project stopped (if any such Democrats still exist in Sacramento or elsewhere in California). And there are those Democrats who recognize the dangers of undisciplined public sector unions insisting on exorbitant pensions, benefits, ands salaries, even if local or statewide agencies cannot pay for them. But they remain quiet, and far from Sacramento.
But those are different train wrecks altogether.
While "Republican" Governor Schwarzenegger was the mastermind (or anything but) behind the Cap and Trade scam and a cheerleader for the bullet train scheme, Governor Brown wants to further this wasteful project, despite rising opposition to the project, along with the mounting legal costs and moral concerns about spending more money on a low-priority project. Brown wants to increase public school funding. Why not disband this bullet train project, and allow the massive saving to fund our schools? The teachers' unions would like that proposal, wouldn't they?
Sadly, California's byzantine budget laws, combined with a protracted, Democrat-dominated legislature dedicated to spending more than the state takes in, and a Governor who feigns conservative fiscal prudence, have only entrenched this billion dollar boondoggle. It's time to bust a cap not just on this wasteful high spend train, which is going nowhere fast, but also on green lobby micromanaging like Cap and Trade, and even the union wranglings from the prison guards and other public (and even private) associations protecting collective bargaining emoluments against the fiscal health (and sanity) of the state of California.
There are enough train wrecks for California leaders to focus on. Governor Brown has no right to add one more to the mess.