How the Republican Anti-HSR Trap Works

Posted on 02 July 2013

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionSend by emailSend by email

Robert CruickshankBy Robert Cruickshank

The Merced Sun-Star lays out the current state of high speed rail politics in Congress, which is the same as it’s been since January 2011 – Republicans hate HSR and are doing everything in their power to kill it. What’s new are not the specific ways they are trying to kill it, but the rhetoric they are using. Central Valley Republicans, stung by unusually strong criticism of their anti-HSR actions by Valley institutions and newspapers, are trying to shift the blame onto the HSR project.

See Rep. David Valadao’s comments for a good example of how this works:

“It’s going to be tough for them to come asking for money, from anyone,” Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, said in an interview Friday.

On Thursday, Valadao won House Appropriations Committee approval for an amendment that would, if it enacted, slow construction of the high-speed rail project. The amendment blocks the federal Surface Transportation Board from taking further action on any section of the project until the three-member board has formally approved it.

Because overall approval could be years away, pending completion of a massive environmental impact study and a financing package, the result would be to delay construction of an initial section linking Bakersfield to Fresno, for which approvals have not yet been obtained. The federal board has approved starting work on a Fresno to Merced section.

“We want to make sure that when they start to spend taxpayer money, they know what the next step is,” Valadao said.

And later in the same article, here’s Rep. Jeff Denham, another Valley Republican:

“At a certain point, they have made it very clear that they are going to need $38 billion in federal funds,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, “and we are making it very clear that they won’t receive a penny until they have a business plan.”

Denham said Friday he will use his chairmanship of the House railroad subcommittee to stymie further federal funding for the California project, unless he is satisfied it is on track. Later this year, Denham will oversee the rewriting of a five-year Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which he said will include language touching on high-speed rail.

Artist Rendering of California's High Speed TrainPhoto credit: California High Speed Rail AuthorityNeither Valadao nor Denham are overtly saying they oppose California high speed rail or are trying to kill it, even though both have consistently voted to deny it funding. Their latest argument is that in fact HSR is just fine and dandy, as long as it successfully jumps through a number of bizarre hoops the Republicans have set up for it – most of them high off the ground and on fire.

Valadao’s demand that the STB review and approve the entire project before any segment of it is built is intended to stop the project by preventing the $4 billion in federal stimulus funds from being spent before their expiration date in September 2017. Denham surely knows that the California High Speed Rail Authority has written numerous business plans – you can see them here – but wants to set up some unspecified process for determining what kind of business plan is acceptable to him, rather than what is objectively good.

The Republican trap, then, is to set up tests that the HSR project cannot possibly pass – and then blame the HSR project and those administering it for its demise. That allows people like Valadao and Denham to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. It’s a clever game, but I doubt that anyone in the Central Valley will be fooled.

Robert Cruickshank writes on California politics at Calitics and California High Speed Rail Blog. This article was originally published at California High Speed Rail Blog.