Henry R. Perea: High-speed rail is better than Assembly leader Connie Conway's idea

FresnoFebruary 20, 2014 

State Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway recently suggested that she and her colleagues have a better use for dollars slated to build California's high-speed rail system.

She claims that their program would create an $11 billion effort to support transportation-related jobs statewide.

Conway and her colleagues' idea is vastly inferior compared with what the California High-Speed Rail Authority is pursuing. The authority is implementing a $67.6 billion project that begins with a $13 billion investment that will create jobs in the San Joaquin Valley and throughout the state.

This program is larger, more immediate, has greater long-term benefits and does not require ongoing public subsidies.

Let's dispense with the political sleight of hand that Conway and her fellow Republicans are proposing. There is no legal way to shift dollars from the high-speed rail bond funds to other programs. Attempting to do so would immediately wipe out $3.3 billion of federal dollars that will flow directly into our region. Those dollars would go to other parts of the country for their infrastructure projects.

It's important to ignore the rhetoric and look at what the Legislature voted for in 2012 when it appropriated funds for high-speed rail (unfortunately with no support from Assembly Republican Leader Conway or her allies).

Not only did the Legislature approve the use of federal funds and some matching bond funds to build the high-speed rail backbone in the San Joaquin Valley, but the total funding package, including state and local match, hit $13 billion.

These funds are being used for major transportation improvements throughout the state. These include upgraded Amtrak service in the Central Valley, light rail upgrades in Los Angeles, improved tracks for the Caltrain commuter line between San Francisco and San Jose, new BART cars in the Bay Area, and many other improvements.

The high-speed rail program provides immediate jobs. Hiring for the initial construction has already begun, and a total of 100,000 jobs will be created on the Valley segment alone.

This region has twice the unemployment rate of the state as a whole. Why would Conway turn away infrastructure, jobs and dollars designated for her district?

Over the long term, high-speed rail will attract billions of dollars more in private capital, something that is missing entirely from Conway's so-called "Jobs First" plan.

And unlike her plan to expand freeways, high-speed rail will not need ongoing tax dollars for maintenance and operations; those funds will come from the operations themselves.

The state has many needs, and it is imperative that we invest further in upgrading our existing roads and highways. But, as Conway pointed out, those needs are enormous and state policymakers are going to have to address them on a large scale.

The funds she proposes to use for that purpose would be insufficient in any case. Instead, we should proceed with the construction of a modern transportation system that will benefit all Californians, and none more than the citizens of our Valley.

It's time to take the partisanship out of transportation policy debates and work together to meet the needs of our state.

There is no legal way to shift dollars from the high-speed rail bond funds to other programs. Attempting to do so would immediately wipe out $3.3 billion of federal dollars that will flow directly into our region.

Henry R. Perea represents District 3 on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. He can be reached at (559) 600-3000 or hperea@co.fresno.ca.us.

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