Proposition 53 Has Implications for California High-Speed Rail
Governor Jerry Brown and his political allies, led by construction trade unions, have ramped up a major campaign to defeat Proposition 53. This statewide ballot measure could jeopardize future funding prospects for California High-Speed Rail.
Proposition 53, also known as the “No Blank Checks Initiative” would require voter approval for the State of California to sell a total of more than $2 billion worth of revenue bonds for a project. Unlike “general obligation bonds,” which are repaid (with interest) through state income and sales taxes, revenue bonds are repaid (with interest) through fees, fares, tolls, or other payments for services.
The Delta farmer who funded the placement of Proposition 53 on the ballot and is funding the campaign to pass it was mainly inspired by a desire to stop Governor Brown’s controversial “Delta Tunnels” project. But Proposition 53 could also hinder future efforts by the State of California to borrow money for California High-Speed Rail construction and operation.
Voters fed up with the continuing expenses for high-speed rail could potentially reject the sale of revenue bonds and cut off a source of state funding. An effective opposition argument to the sale of revenue bonds for California High-Speed Rail would probably focus on the exaggerated projections of ridership and fare revenue for the high-speed passenger train system.
California High-Speed Rail is frequently mentioned in the news media as a project that could be jeopardized if Proposition 53 passes on November 8. For example, the October 14, 2016 San Francisco Chronicle article about Proposition 53 was titled “Prop. 53 Could Bring Big Projects to a Halt” and featured a frequently-published photo of CCHSRA allies Kevin Dayton and his daughter picketing at the high-speed rail groundbreaking ceremony in Fresno in January 2015.
Besides the farmer who is paying for the Proposition 53 campaign, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association – an ally of CCHSRA – is the main organization supporting it. The argument in favor of Proposition 53 cites California High-Speed Rail as a reason to vote for it:
Proposition 53 will STOP POLITICIANS FROM ISSUING BLANK CHECK DEBT to complete billion dollar state boondoggles. Take California’s bullet train. They told us it would cost California taxpayers $10 billion. Now we know it’s going to cost more than $60 billion! Yet, you don’t have a right to vote on that huge increase!
Leading opponents of Proposition 53 are construction trade unions, which have a monopoly on construction of the California High-Speed Rail system through a Project Labor Agreement. The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California; the Carpenters, Laborers, Ironworkers, and Operating Engineers unions; and the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperation Trust have been top funders of the campaign to defeat Proposition 53.
The rebuttal to the argument against Proposition 53 in the California Official Voter Guide states that opponents “include insiders who profit from massive state revenue bond projects, and politicians and bureaucrats who don’t trust you to decide whether to approve boondoggles like the $64 billion bullet train…” Some people would declare that to be an accurate depiction of the chief backers of California High-Speed Rail.
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