Monday, September 22, 2008
IN MY OPINION (Column)
The Pork Express
By JON COUPAL
For six years in a row, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation (HJTF) have published the California Piglet Book to spotlight waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers’ dollars. Modeled after the Pig Book, an annual analysis of Federal spending conducted by CAGW, we have found the state Piglet an excellent method of embarrassing California officials into better performance and a higher respect for the public’s money.
In a target rich environment, this year we have chosen to focus our attention on the misuse of public transportation dollars.
An examination of public transportation projects commonly reveals misspent taxpayer funds. This is because high profile projects at the local, state, and federal government levels are a favorite of politicians who see in them numerous career building opportunities, which become an end in themselves.
Elected officials enjoy the photos and speeches, while control of transportation dollars can be turned into massive clout, which in turn generates campaign contributions and votes. The goal of bringing home the transportation pork is often at odds with proper planning and management of high dollar projects.
The 2008 California Piglet Book includes a special section on high speed rail with excerpts from The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report, which challenges the many assumptions advanced by the proponents of this massive project.
California’s high-speed rail system, on which politicians and special interests want to spend — with apologies to Carl Sagan — billions and billions of taxpayer dollars. All this at time when the state has already run up a record $17 billion budget deficit, and is over two months late in passing a spending plan to reconcile that problem. The full study, authored by transportation experts Wendell Cox and Joseph Vranich, was jointly sponsored by the Reason Foundation, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation and Citizens Against Government Waste and can be found at www.hjta.org, www.cagw.org or www.reason.com.
We also have sought to show examples of other misspent transportation-related dollars, including: - California recorded $98 million in fuel costs for its 50,000 state-owned vehicles in 2007, but that’s only 60 percent of total fuel costs; the state cannot account for the other 40 percent;
•The California Air Resources Board plans to spend $36 million in 2009 to expand a zero-emission bus program even though the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has found that its three zero-emission buses cost more than $51 per mile to fuel and maintain, versus $1.61 per mile for a diesel bus; and,
•The California Highway Patrol spent $1 million to buy 51 vans, and then used 46 of them sparingly over two years, averaging only nine miles driven per van.
Make no mistake — CAGW and HJTA are not automatically opposed to all public transportation. The issue is the tremendous subsidies that most plans require from all taxpayers and the official mismanagement and corruption that result in massive cost overruns.
Most egregious are proposals like the California high-speed rail plan where voters are being sold “a pig in a poke” — no pun intended. Promoters are trying to lure taxpayers into buying their $54 billion project, but like the customer of old who got the bag home from the market only to find that, instead of the pig they thought they purchased, they had been fooled into buying a cat, taxpayers will be unpleasantly surprised when they discover that the new train system could actually cost them nearly $30 billion more.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company