It’s been four years since Californians went to the polls to support the construction of a high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and now they’re asking for a revote. With Governor Jerry Brown pushing to begin construction on the new train, the Huffington Post reports that 55 percent of voters have told pollsters that they would like to see the measure back on the ballot. And this time, they’ll vote against it—59 percent of Californians now oppose the measure. This marks a sizable shift from the original vote. In 2008, Proposition 1A, which provided funding for the high-speed rail project, passed by a margin of 53 percent in favor to 47 percent against with 80 percent turnout—a sizable victory. Today’s polls suggest a shift of more than 12 percent against the measure, and the breadth of the opposition is impressive:
The poll found that concerns about the project extend across regions, ethnic groups, income brackets and even political affiliations, according to the Times. Among Democrats, initially the strongest supporters of the plan, only 43 percent would support the bond in a new vote, while 47 percent would oppose it. Seventy-six percent of Republicans would vote against it.
The economic and political climate has changed drastically since 2008, making it difficult to pinpoint the precise reasons for this shift. But as the Huffington Post points out, there are a few obvious explanations. In the years since the passage of Prop 1A, the plans have been scaled back, so that the train will now share tracks with local trains for much of its route, which will force it to travel at slower speeds in certain areas.
But voters seem to be even more concerned about the train’s accelerating cost. Under normal circumstances, $68 billion may seem like a reasonable price for a project like this, but at a time when education, law enforcement, and other basic jobs are being cut, it’s hard to justify the expense. Small wonder Californians are beginning to balk — especially as polls show that most Californians think they would never ride the train and would prefer either driving or flying to make the trip.
To watch school funding get cut and prisoners released en masse from jails in order to fund a train that you don’t want and won’t ride: amazingly, working class and middle class Californians don’t want to sacrifice today so that well heeled yuppies can have fast train rides decades from now.
The more Californians see of this train, the less they like it. There was a time when ambitious public works projects cemented the Democratic coalition, but it looks increasingly in California as if that old blue magic doesn’t work anymore.