On Bullet Train, Voters Finally May Get to Apply the Brakes

high speed rail trainPencils have erasers. Computers have the undo command and the escape key.

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If you had it to do over again, would you vote for the bullet train?

It was called the “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act” on the 2008 ballot, and it authorized $9 billion in bonds — borrowed money — to “partially fund” a high-speed train system in California.

The ballot measure required that there would be “private and public matching funds,” “accountability and oversight” and a focus on completing “Phase I” from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Anaheim. Bond funds could not be spent on the other corridors, like Fresno to Bakersfield, unless there was “no negative impact on the construction of Phase I.”

Today the estimated cost is over $68 billion, private and federal funds are not in sight, and accountability has been cut back — instead of two spending reports to the Legislature every year, only one report every two years will be required. And “Phase I” broke ground in Fresno.

Place your finger on the escape key and stand by. State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Fresno, has introduced a bill, co-authored by Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, to put the bullet train before the voters again. If Senate Bill 3 (SBX1-3) can muster a two-thirds vote in the state Senate and Assembly, it will be on the June 2016 ballot.

The measure would freeze spending on the bullet train and direct unspent funds to the Department of Transportation to be used for roads, which would come in handy because California needs $59 billion just to maintain the freeways for the next 10 years. Gov. Jerry Brown has called a special session of the Legislature to look for revenue to fill the state’s transportation budget pothole after signing a “balanced” budget that left that item out.

The non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office offered some suggestions that illustrate the difference between what tax increases can raise and what the bullet train costs.

• Raising the tax on a gallon of gasoline brings in $150 million per 1 cent increase.

• Raising the tax on a gallon of diesel fuel collects $30 million per 1 cent increase.

• Raising the vehicle registration fee nets $33 million per $1 increase.

• Doubling the vehicle weight fees raises about $1 billion.

• Raising the vehicle license fee hauls in roughly $3 billion per 1 percent increase.

There are other options. The LAO says lawmakers could prioritize the budget to use money from the general fund to maintain and construct roads. Billions in cap-and-trade revenue, collected from fees now levied on gasoline and diesel fuel, could be used for highway projects that reduce traffic and improve mileage.

Additionally, $900 million that was loaned from state transportation accounts to the general fund could be repaid and used for roads. “Efficiency and effectiveness” could be improved by prioritizing cost-effective maintenance projects, increasing accountability and oversight, and examining Caltrans’ “capital outlay support” program to see if it is “operating efficiently.” Hint, hint.

The scrimping, saving and tax hikes needed to maintain the freeways can’t begin to address all the other transportation infrastructure needs, and we still have to pay for the rising costs of Medi-Cal, unfunded pensions and health benefits for state employees, and desperately needed water projects.

In 2008, the ballot argument for the bullet train promised high-speed rail “without raising taxes,” but it’s a shell game if tax revenue is spent on the train while taxes are raised for the roads.

Sen. Vidak’s bipartisan bill ought to have the support of every lawmaker. Voters deserve a chance to undo the bullet train and escape from this mess.


Reach the author at Susan@SusanShelley.com or follow Susan on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.


  1. I am very close to saying good bye to the state I’ve called home for 54 years. The liberal politicians with ample help from the RINOs have all but destroyed this state. From the sanctuary cities to restoring voting rights to convicted felons, to appointing illegal aliens to a city board, to punishing law abiding gun owners while not enforcing existing laws has ruined California. And now they want more money to fix those things they’ve stolen the money from for their buying votes. Eff em all.

  2. I could not have said it better myself Tremors 🙂

  3. You cannot stop the stupid, it is too powerful.
    Only the complete collapse of government in CA can give any hope to resurrecting what was once thought to be paradise – anything else is just working on the margins.
    This bill will not get the required 2/3’s, and will not appear on the ’16 ballot.

  4. I didn’t vote in favor of the train to begin with, but now that those who did have had an opportunity to see the error in their thinking, we need a chance to reverse it. Our focus right now should be to address the water storage – or lack of it! Our governing staff needs to be scrutinized and those who can’t put California’s well being first and foremost should be removed from office! Most people have no clue that during this crisis, water was being released from Folsom Lake to accommodate a very small number of fish; meanwhile the farmers in the Central Valley go without for the crops. When we have prices that no one can afford for their food, crime will go up. When there is no food due to no water allowance, what do you think will happen. Even the rich can’t buy what isn’t available. And this doesn’t mention the costs involved to keep the train running. Maintenance for the train is just a portion of that thought. What about the tracks? The land on which the train travels? And how about the cost to ride it? If ticket sales are to help repay the deficit, there will need to be a lot of people riding the train daily. Why not just contract with BART to go statewide? They do a great job! I could go on for days. I hope Mr Vidak’s bill makes it back to the voters, and this time gets the proper goodbye it should have received the first time!

  5. I’d move out immediately but old age is creeping over me. A wonderful place to live has gone into the crapper. I give up.

  6. The Big Donkey says

    Every day, it becomes more and more obvious that Andy Vidak will be running for Governor in 2018.

  7. Maryann Ramshorn says

    Let’s rethink that Bullet train!

  8. Anziani, I finally gave up and left the State of California after 72 years and I am now as happy with my new adopted State as I was with California up until Governor Moonbeam was first elected in the 70’s.

  9. If you are over 70 the DUNG SUCKERS that are running this state have
    made you a prisoner in it, unless you want to give up everything you have worked for all your life,and they know it.

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