California Governor Jerry Brown is entering an election year with one of his biggest pet projects in serious trouble. In November, two court decisions made it considerably more difficult for the state to raise money for the high-speed rail project between Los Angeles and San Francisco and tied up the construction in environmental red tape.On its own, this may not pose a serious long-term threat to the program, but public opinion is turning against it as well. Polls taken last year suggest that some 52 percent of Californians want to see the program cancelled; it was approved by the same percentage in 2008. The erosion of support has led Republicans in Sacramento to revive their opposition to the plan, calling for another vote on the issue, which they think they could win this time around. If this becomes a hot issue again, it could be one of the few major weakness in Brown’s potential reelection campaign. And, as the New York Times reports, some now seriously doubt whether Brown can get the project done at all:
“It’s time for the governor to pull up the tracks,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, who is the majority whip in the House.[…]Joe Nation, a professor of public policy at Stanford University and a critic of the plan, said Mr. Brown would have to grapple with this decline in support, which he argued reflected voters’ growing doubts about the basic competence of government.“Obamacare has leached over into this,” Mr. Nation said. “You have people saying, ‘The federal government that can’t build a website — how can we expect them to build a multibillion-dollar train?’ ” […]“I don’t see them getting any more money from the federal government,” Mr. McCarthy said. “I don’t see $9 billion to build it from California taxpayers, and I don’t see them getting any private investment.”
This doesn’t mean that the project is doomed—plans like this have a way of moving forward once they’re approved, regardless of later cost increases. But the project was a bad idea from the beginning, and we hope that Sacramento takes these setbacks as an opportunity to reconsider the wisdom of the project as a whole.