Dan Walters: Inflated post numbers support high-speed rail | Dan Walters

Whenever politicians spend large sums of taxpayer money on pet projects, they invariably overestimate their supposed economic benefits, especially by creating a multitude of “high paying jobs.”

They all do this, using a misleading assumption that if a worker ever works on the project, it is considered “work”.

Ralph Vartabedian, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who – thank goodness – specializes in telling us what’s really going on, or not, in the state’s ill-fated bullet train project, pierces his myth of the job creation in a recent article.

Vartabedian quotes a banner on a bullet train overpass in Fresno claiming “5,000+ jobs,” but reveals that while consuming billions of dollars, the project only employed around 1,000 construction workers at the time.

“The 5,000 job boast refers to the number of workers sent by unions,” he wrote. “Every time a worker is sent to a job site, whether it’s for a day or hundreds of days, it counts as work for banner purposes.

“Rail authority chief executive Brian Kelly has championed worker numbers as a valid measure of progress, saying the authority has been doing it for years.”

In other words, given that the inflated job count has been in use for years, Kelly would have us believe that it is a valid practice.

In fact, as Vartabedian discovered while analyzing data from high-speed trains, “hourly workers received about $ 265 million of the $ 6.1 billion that was spent on construction, which is than 4%. Of the total of $ 8.1 billion spent on the project, the labor share is even smaller, 3%. The $ 265 million is less than what the rail authority spends every three months. “

The highly inflated demands for job creation are important as the support of the construction unions was one of the most important factors in keeping the project alive despite the lack of rational justification.

The original vision, supported by voters, was for a statewide high-speed north-south transportation system, but no one ever came up with a plan to fund such a system, which would cost more. of $ 100 billion.

The Fresno structures, dubbed “Stonehenge” by local critics, are part of a very limited stretch in the San Joaquin Valley, funded by government bonds, a federal grant, and a share of the proceeds of the auction. Status of greenhouse gas emission permits. Right now it would run from a few miles north of Fresno to a few miles north of Bakersfield.

Gov. Gavin Newsom almost killed the project after taking office in 2019, only to turn back the clock under pressure from construction unions.

Newsom then said he wanted to expand the current project north a few miles from Merced and south a few miles from Bakersfield, assuming that one day it could be connected to the Bay Area and Los Angeles. . But it also added billions of dollars to the projected costs.

Newsom’s latest budget proposal would appropriate $ 4.2 billion of the remaining bonds approved by voters to advance its version of the project and mentions “potential federal funds” to fill the remaining financial hole – a reference to the program. ambitious infrastructure of President Joe Biden.

However, Newsom’s plan does not suit some legislative leaders who would prefer to improve public transit. Some of the money from high-speed trains has already been shifted to electrifying the Caltrain commuter service on the San Francisco Peninsula, and Southern California lawmakers, led by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon , want similar diversions for their region.

Suburban projects would likely also use exaggerated job creation demands, but at least they would meet real needs, rather than an unrealistic agenda.

CALmatters is a public service journalism firm committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and its importance. Dan Walters has been a journalist for almost 60 years, spending most of those years working for California newspapers.

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