(By Scott Wilk) While the rest of our nation and the world modernized, California has allowed its infrastructure to deteriorate and its investment in its maintenance to dwindle to near nothing.
Not only are we not building 21st century schools and transportation systems, but we’re not even properly maintaining what we do have. Given that reality you would think the answer from your political leaders would be to roll up their sleeves and set a true course for attaining a 21st century infrastructure — beginning with fixing what is already broken — our schools and our roads.
Instead, Gov. Jerry Brown wants to blow off that difficult work and jump right to his own personal legacy project, a shiny new train he envisions as a lasting symbol of his “California Comeback.” It is a PR stunt at best and a serious dereliction of duty at worst. Don’t get me wrong, I love trains and would be happy to be able to take one from Los Angeles to San Francisco for “dinner and a show” and back, but not at the expense of the people of California.
In 2008, the voters narrowly approved a bond measure to finance the high-speed rail project and sadly, voters were deceived. Six years later, the initial price has skyrocketed and not a single piece of track has been laid.
Originally the total cost was supposed to be $33.5 billion paid for with a combination of one-third state funds, one-third federal funds and one-third private funds. Now the total cost will be at least twice as much and is currently pegged at $67.6 billion with no private funds in sight.
What will the high-speed rail cost California taxpayers? Using only the original estimate, $9.95 billion and repaying those HSR bonds would cost the state’s general fund $647 million per year for 30 years, or $20 billion. Using the most recent estimates that cost would easily double.
On the other hand, our school bond funds approved by voter in 2006 are nearing exhaustion and many school facilities are in dire need of construction and modernization. Only $187.3 million remains in school construction bond authority and of that $142.4 million is earmarked for seismic repair. Given these funds are nearly drained, the need for additional funding could not be more apparent. With a school construction bond failing to make it on the 2014 ballot, it makes sense to let voters decide if they want to change their minds given the new realities.
The State Allocation Board, which oversees the state’s school construction and modernization programs, estimated earlier this year that California needs as much as $12 billion in additional school-building money and almost $5 billion in modernization money.
That is why this week I introduced AB 6, which will give voters the chance in November 2016 to halt the sale of bonds sold for high-speed rail purposes as stated in Proposition 1A (2008) and would also require the redirection of unspent dollars received from outstanding bonds issued and sold for other high-speed rail purposes. This measure would also require the net proceeds of other bonds later issued and sold under the high-speed rail portion of the bond act to be made available to fund construction of school facilities for K-12 and higher education. Our students deserve to have well-maintained facilities and it is irresponsible to continue prioritizing the crazy train over our schools. The high-speed rail boondoggle has been a proven failure and it’s time we spend taxpayer dollars in a responsible way.
If passed by the Legislature and signed into law, AB 6 would repurpose up to $8 billion for school facilities, which no one can deny are vital for our students’ well-being, their education, future job prospects, and the health of our economy.
AB 6 will ensure the high-speed rail gets left at the station.
Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Valencia, represents the 38th Assembly District