Support for the Green New Deal seems to have become a litmus test for Democratic presidential candidates. The problem for candidates, however, is that endorsing it means you have to defend it.
Take, for instance, the Green New Deal’s endorsement of high-speed rail. Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the legislation's co-author, has infamously stated that the goal is to "build out high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary."
Unlike lofty Green New Deal goals such as guaranteed jobs for all, high-speed rail is already being tried in Green New Deal-friendly California. It is proving to be a disaster. Unless something changes, the eventual nominee will be stuck defending California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s wholly political decision to continue building it.
A serious debate could be had over whether it makes sense to build a bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Proponents would argue that it is "greener" than cars and planes, and necessary in light of projected population growth. Opponents would argue that getting from Los Angeles to San Francisco isn't a problem. It is already cheap and fast by plane. The real problem is going home from the office, but no one would seriously argue that it makes sense to build a bullet train from Bakersfield to Merced. (Such a project sounds like the punch line of an old Johnny Carson joke!)
Nevertheless, in his February State of the State speech, California Gov. Gavin Newsom stated that this was, in fact, his intention, even while acknowledging "there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to LA."
If there is no such path, why blow taxpayer money on this project? Why not halt it until there is such a path?
In his lame attempt to justify such an absurd project, Newsom used a red herring by criticizing anyone who would dare label the project a "train to nowhere." That, he states, is "offensive." He does not address opponents who may label it another way, say, "the dumbest infrastructure project in the history of the United States."
Of course, building the scaled-back train only makes sense if it is the first part of a train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. This is no doubt why Newsom has been back peddling since the announcement, claiming now that he has every intention of attempting to complete the project. But he cannot walk back this statement: “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long.”
Newsom did not pledge to double the speed of construction, probably because he knows it is not possible.
If this is the case, why keep building? Doing so is clearly illegal. He is using funds voters approved in 2008 to build a train “linking Southern California counties, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area.” Voters were also told the project would cost $33 billion. Revised estimates have put the cost at least two to three times higher.
Newsom showed his hand as to the real reason he wants to build the Bakersfield to Merced leg: politics. "I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump," he said in the speech. He further politicized the issue in a subsequent tweet, questioning whether Trump was demanding the money back because he is "desperately searching for some wall $$??"
The problem is that California’s own auditor determined that the project will miss the completion deadline of December 2022 under the federal grant "unless Central Valley construction progresses twice as fast as it has to date."
Newsom did not pledge to double the speed of construction, probably because he knows it is not possible. But by continuing to build, he hopes to at least delay the state’s repayment of the federal funds until 2022 when Trump may no longer be in the White House.
California Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa may have just thrown a monkey wrench into that plan by introducing the High-Speed Refund Act, which would require California to refund about $3.5 billion in federal funding and repurpose it to economically viable freight and highway projects.
In so doing, LaMalfa has forced House Democrats to take a position: Step in and ensure that federal money is used responsibly, or maintain a one-note, anti-Trump agenda. The latter is the expected course. That will leave the party’s next nominee to defend Newsom’s "train to nowhere," as well as the part of the Green New Deal that it represents.