Scott was absolutely correct to keep out this boondoggle. Here’s why (it’s a tad on the long-ish side, but stick with it; I think it’ll be worth it).
Those who want HSR, as did the Orlando Sentinel this past December, are trying to claim the whole thing will not cost Florida’s taxpayers a dime in state money. With the federal government and the private firms building the thing picking up the tab, what’s not to like for Gov. Scott and the taxpaying voters who put him in office? According to the Governor in an interview, it’s a pipe dream:
In the interview today, Scott said an existing high-speed rail line between Miami and West Palm Beach costs $65 million a year to operate and that fares cover only $10 million. Construction cost overruns on the proposed Tampa-Orlando line might have been $3 billion, he said.
Naturally, LaHood piped in with his “expertise” [emphasis mine]:
LaHood said of Scott’s criticism: ’’I don’t know of another person in Florida that agrees with that. I don’t know of another economist, another person that’s looked at the plans in Florida. A lot of smart people have put these plans together. There would have been no financial liability or responsibility to the taxpayers of Florida.’’
Yeah. Smart. People. You know. “Top. Men.”
There are tons of people in government like LaHood, in addition to a slew of connected crony capitalists ingratiating themselves into government projects. They are charlatans, con men, and BS artists. I will cite two government projects to prove my point.
Back in 2000, the city government of New London, CT authorized a development plan they said would help local employment and increase tax revenues. Part of the area was designated to be used by Pfizer, Inc. to build a $300 million research facility. However, there were already homes and homeowners on that land. While some did sell, many didn’t, including one Susette Kelo. The group authorized with implementing the development plan by the New London city government instituted eminent domain proceedings against Kelo and the others (Connecticut law at the time allowed this); Kelo and the others fought back in the courts to save their homes and properties. After five years, their case hit the Supreme Court. A 5-4 majority on the Court (Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer) became accessories in the theft of the properties and homes owned by Kelo and the other plaintiffs in the case, ruling for New London. The majority opinion by Stevens was so bad, Justice O’Connor, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Thomas, wrote a scathing dissent (do read it all). Not content with that, Justice Thomas rightfully, righteously, and caustically attacks the majority in the beginning of his analysis in his own dissent [italicized emphasis from original; bold emphasis mine]:
The Fifth Amendment provides:
“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process, of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”…
It is the last of these liberties, the Takings Clause, that is at issue in this case. In my view, it is “imperative that the Court maintain absolute fidelity to” the Clause’s express limit on the power of the government over the individual, no less than with every other liberty expressly enumerated in the Fifth Amendment or the Bill of Rights more generally. Shepard v. United States, 544 U.S. ___, ___ (2005) (slip op., at 2) (Thomas, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (internal quotation marks omitted).
As with O’Connor’s dissent, read all of the dissent by Thomas.
Explaining the decision to the Clark County Bar Association in 2005, Justice John Paul Stevens asserted that the court “focused on the purpose of the entire project, rather than its impact on the individuals who happen to own property in the targeted area.”
In essence, LaHood is echoing Stevens. LaHood is focused only on what is good for the regime, regardless of the impact on the people who will eventually have to pay for it, the Florida taxpayers. Remember, according to LaHood regarding the Florida HSR plan, “A lot of smart people have put these plans together.” You know how “smart” the planners were in New London? From the same Chronicle editorial:
The well-laid plans of redevelopers, however, did not pan out. The land where Suzette [sic] Kelo’s little pink house once stood remains undeveloped. The proposed hotel-retail-condo “urban village” has not been built. And earlier this month, Pfizer Inc. announced that it is closing the $350 million research center in New London that was the anchor for the New London redevelopment plan, and will be relocating some 1,500 jobs.
(Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion that appears, on the surface, to compel the Court to take a more stringent judicial approach towards the nature of takings via eminent domain. As with Stevens’ opinion, the one from Kennedy devolves into a paean praising those “smart people” in government, and allowing them to do anything they please, including violating the Takings Clause.)
There are even more “smart” people in government. My second example comes from Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Community College District runs the largest two-year college system in the state of California. But LACCD ran into issues:
By the 1990s, however, many campus buildings had fallen into disrepair.
Naturally, LACCD’s budget wasn’t large enough to deal with its issues in a short amount of time. So the District did what many in government do:
So in 2001, the board placed before voters a $1.2-billion bond measure, followed by another for nearly $1 billion in 2003.
Both passed by wide margins.
Here is Proposition A, passed in 2001; here is Measure AA, passed in 2003. Now the LACCD had the money to implement a plan put together by…wait for it…”smart people.” You know. “Top. Men.”
Some good things were done. Other things, not so good:
Construction problems at East Los Angeles College added $15 million to the original $28 million cost
Construction problems at Valley College increased those costs from $48 million to $51.5 million
$1.8 million paid to an architect to design a 5-story fitness center for L.A. City College was thrown out and another $1.9 million was paid to another architect for a different design, on orders from the college president
Bond money for new buildings was redirected for public relations
Southwest College paid $2 million for solar panels that doubled as shading for a parking lot; it was abandoned halfway through, leaving a bunch of poles sticking up out of the ground
A $1.8 million animal shelter was built for a Pierce College science project, only to find out the shelter was built at the bottom of a slope and exposing the animals to runoff from mud and manure during heavy rains
$39 million of $414 million was spent to start construction of four new West Los Angeles College buildings, only to find out the costs had increased by another $132 million; the construction was canceled.
District officials and college presidents made sure relatives were hired for various jobs
Millions of dollars in bond money was illegally spent
Builders, architects, engineers, and unions that have won contracts were found to have “donated” campaign money to the elected officials that make up LACCD Board of Trustees
Going back to the piece in the Times:
By 2007, it was clear that the $2.2 billion in bond money would run out long before the district had finished all the projects on its list. The trustees decided to go to voters once more, this time with the biggest bond measure of all — a $3.5-billion proposal, Measure J, on the November 2008 ballot.
Not content with just “donating” to trustee election campaigns:
Contractors put up nearly two-thirds of the $1.9 million raised for the ballot campaign.
Even though the cost of the projects was going to increase by 150%, 70% voted for Measure J.
In all of these measures, property taxes were going to have to be increased to pay back the 40-year bonds. For Proposition A in 2001 and Measure AA in 2003, a maximum of $50 for every $100,000 in taxable property value was to be added to taxpayers’ property tax bills. There is no information on the maximum interest rate allowed by law that could be charged for the bonds. For 2008’s Measure J, however, there was no maximum set for the property tax increase, and the maximum interest rate charged for the bonds was set at a maximum of 12%. Think about it: 12%. Back to the Times:
An owner of residential property assessed at $400,000 paid $714 in extra taxes for college construction over the last nine years and will pay several times that much over the next four decades…
Taxpayers will be repaying the debt until at least the 2050s. With interest, the bill is likely to exceed $11 billion.
Granted, we are talking about California, and the various government entities take no consideration of how they spend other people’s money. The Times reports that the district has already spent all of the money allocated from Proposition A and Measure AA, and has gone through more than 11% of the $3.5 billion allocated from Measure J.
The Times did get snippets of information from some trustees, but was able to get more than that from LACCD board President Georgia Mercer [emphasis mine]:
Mercer described the trustees as laypeople who try to “hire the best people and not interfere in management.” As to the waste The Times uncovered, she said, “Believe me, we take it very seriously.”
You know. “Top. Men.”
Remember this LaHood quote from above:
A lot of smart people have put these plans together.
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