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California Politicians on Verge of Next ‘Bullet Train’ Boondoggle

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A number of costly ideas kicking around the state Capitol could use some critical thinking about potential consequences, says Dan Walters. (Shutterstock)
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Decisions by governors, legislators and bureaucrats have consequences, some intended and some not.

Were politics a rational exercise, decision-makers would fully explore potential effects before acting, thereby minimizing chances that what they have wrought would backfire.

Dan Walters with a serious expression

Dan Walters

CalMatters

Opinion

However, politics and politicians tend to act in the here and now, rather than worry about what might happen in the future when their decrees collide with the real world.

Examples of short-term decisions that have turned sour abound. One obvious one is California’s ill-starred bullet train project, which has limped along year after year, and still lacks enough money even to complete one initial segment, much less a complete financial plan.

If we had known then what we know now, would voters, governors and legislators have so willingly begun a project that seems to exist merely to exist, but serves no discernible purpose?

Several other notions kicking around the Capitol currently could use some critical thinking about potential consequences.

One is that California should pay reparations to its Black residents for many decades of discrimination and repression. A task force created to study the issue has pegged potential damages as much as $1.2 million per person, although it has not yet said how much should actually be paid.

“Rather, it is an economically conservative initial assessment of what losses, at a minimum, the state of California caused or could have prevented, but did not,” a task force report states. “The Legislature would then have to decide how to translate loss-estimates into proposed reparations amounts.”

No one should question that Black Californians have been ill-treated in many ways, but even if awarded cash, would claims for reparations end there?

Latinos suffered many of the same indignities and economic damages and might easily make similar claims.

What about California’s Native Americans? They were enslaved and hunted down during the state’s first decades, with bounties to encourage more killing. Couldn’t today’s descendants claim reparations for genocide?

Another issue being floated in the Capitol these days is a constitutional amendment to make housing a civil right.

Advocates say Assembly Constitutional Amendment 10 is needed to spur greater efforts by officeholders to end California’s housing shortage. Were ACA 10 to be enacted, it would give advocates for the poor and others who lack adequate housing a legal basis for suing state and local governments.

However, governments cannot, by themselves, end the housing shortage. At best they can finance a relative few housing units but must rely on private investment to build the millions of additional units the state needs. Making housing a constitutional right would be virtue-signaling that raises expectations with no real world benefit.

Another Bullet Train Boondoggle?

A third example of something needing more objective analysis is a bill that purports to raise salaries of teachers and other education workers by 50% in seven years by increasing the state aid that school districts receive.

If enacted, it would be another bullet train – making promises about doing something wonderful in the future without laying out how it will be financed. One would think politicians would have learned by now the folly of making such open-ended, detail-free commitments.

Finally, there are directives from the Air Resources Board to end sales of gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles, including large trucks, in the not-to-distant future. However, no one has laid out how, as a practical matter, it can be done, given the current state of technology and lack of firm plans to increase electrical energy supplies, charging stations and the other services and devices such a transition would require.

An old adage, “Look before you leap,” could be applied to all of these issues.

About the Author

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. For more columns by Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He has written more than 9,000 columns about the state and its politics and is the founding editor of the “California Political Almanac.” Dan has also been a frequent guest on national television news shows, commenting on California issues and policies.