Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea argues that high-speed rail represents a better economic investment for the Valley than putting taxpayer dollars directly toward improving our existing highway and rail system as called for in the Assembly Republican "California Jobs First" Plan.
While I respect his point of view, as offered in a Feb. 21 op-ed in The Bee, he would be wise to step back from worshipping at the altar of high-speed rail and look realistically at the choice facing us today.
Mr. Perea recites many of the lavish promises being made by high-speed rail proponents about jobs and funding. But the reality is that these promises are never likely to materialize. The plan — which has been estimated to cost as much as $100 billion — doesn't even have one-quarter of the money it will need to get off the ground. This is a bill state taxpayers can't afford on their own.
While the state has received $3.3 billion from Washington, D.C., that is a long way from what is needed to get "The Little Engine That Could" on track. This is nowhere near the funding formula of one-third from state taxpayers, one-third from the federal government and one-third from private investment that voters were promised.
The project is now in significant legal jeopardy as well. The High-Speed Rail Authority has been spending proceeds from the voter-approved high-speed rail bond with no accountability, and contrary to the will of the people. Recent legal rulings have suggested that the project will likely be halted in the courtroom.
So while Mr. Perea and the other high-speed rail proponents cling to pie-in-the-sky thinking, I choose instead to focus on what we can really do to improve transportation infrastructure in the San Joaquin Valley and create thousands of jobs here.
Our "California Jobs First" plan could also best be described as a "Valley Jobs First" plan because that's what it's all about — boosting the Valley's economy by improving our highways and existing rail system.
By asking the people to decide to reinvest the high-speed rail bond and ending Sacramento budget gimmicks, we would invest $11 billion in one-time funds and $2.4 billion annually in roads, highways, bridges and ports. Our plan would create 108,000 new jobs statewide and grow the economy by $140 billion.
Right now, the Valley has $9.7 billion in unmet transportation infrastructure needs. These include dozens of projects to widen and repair Highway 99 from Kern County in the south to San Joaquin County in the north. All of these projects would be eligible for funding under our Jobs First plan.
Mr. Perea also somehow claims that our plan is "not legal." This is not true. Our plan asks the voters to decide whether to redirect the high-speed rail bond for other, more pressing transportation needs in the Valley and statewide.
It does not touch the $3.3 billion from Washington. President Obama will determine if those dollars will be taken away from California.
Just as we are asking voters to decide on redirecting high-speed rail funds, Supervisor Perea could ask Washington to redirect these funds to improve our existing passenger rail system, which would provide an immediate benefit to the Valley.
Ultimately, the people will decide if we want to double down on a project that California taxpayers will have to subsidize up to $100 billion, or change course and invest in our existing transportation needs, real jobs and real economic growth.
Voters will have to choose whether we will destroy prime farm land and jobs for farmworkers, or improve Highway 99 so we can make the shipment of Valley-grown agriculture to markets around the world more efficient, support local farmers and protect ag jobs.
Unlike Mr. Perea, I trust the voters to make the right choice.
Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare represents the 26th Assembly District in the state Legislature.