We were a Nevada family when promoters first floated the idea of a high-speed magnetic-levitation (“maglev”) rail project between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It would travel across the desert at speeds up to 300 mph, arriving in Anaheim in 81 minutes.
We were stoked. My grandsons would be surfers! But like most such proposals, this one couldn’t find adequate financial backing.
A more recent fast-rail proposal would connect Los Angeles to San Francisco, 380 miles distant, at speeds up to 220 mph. This one found financing aplenty, but lacked adult supervision.
The initial 2008 estimate was $33.6 billion in construction costs. That’s what California voters agreed to. Completion was projected by 2028. By 2012, the California government said make that $53.4 billion. Then last year, they said – what the heck – make it $63.2 billion, but it won’t be finished until 2033. The boondoggle’s other legs lift the overall cost to $98.1 billion.
Former California Gov. Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown apparently wasn’t cut out for managing large projects like this one. Current Gov. Gavin Newsome pulled the plug shortly after his inauguration in January. “There’s been too little oversight,” he said, “and not enough transparency.”
But “before you celebrate the sudden outbreak of common sense in California,” as Investor’s Business Daily cracked last month, Newsome made the astonishing announcement that he still wants to build the bullet train from Merced (pop. 83,000) to Bakersfield (pop. 380,000).
In between the two is Fresno (pop. 512,000). It’s extremely unlikely that these populations will yield enough ridership to keep the rail system solvent. That’s $10.6 billion down the drain, just in construction costs, and then a system that will almost certainly bleed red ink deep into this century.
Far be it from me to stigmatize mental illness, but this appears to be lunacy. Can we at least agree that we don’t want our accountants to be lunatics? Still, it’s California. If you live in a different state, why should you care about the latest outbreak of moon-barking on the Left Coast? Because you’ve got $3.5 billion “skin in the game.”
Yes, your federal government has participated in the funding for this proposed project. It was supposed to be a matching grant, dollar-for-dollar. But by the end of last year, the state of California had spent $3 billion on the project, and only 15 percent was California money. The rest, a little over $2.5 billion, was your money.
Democrat Newsome has clung to the Merced-to-Bakersfield black hole because quitting would trigger “sending $3.5 billion in federal funding back to Donald Trump.”
This is a disturbing rationale. An American public official would rather pour $10.6 billion of hard-earned taxpayers’ money into a guaranteed failure than to return it to the people who may have better uses for it, maybe even an urgent need for it?
But I have to thank Gov. Newsome for provoking me to think that through. What could we do with $3.5 billion on the federal side?
Well, Congress said we can’t afford to fund $5 billion in border fencing. We only appropriated $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new fencing at the border. That’s $25 million per mile of fencing. At that rate, we could build another 140 miles of fence, for a combined total of 195 miles fenced this year.
But why does it cost so much? In 2007, when fencing was built under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, it cost $2.8 million per mile. By 2008, it cost $3.9 million per mile. I understand that labor costs escalate, and perhaps we’re building a higher quality of fence nowadays. But if the fence cost $10 million per mile, we could build 137 miles of fence with the Congressional appropriation, and 420 miles of fence with the repaid California rail grant. Even at $12.5 million, we could build 110 miles with the Congressional appropriation and 280 miles with the repaid California rail grant.
In the long run, we should finance the fence and all the necessary manpower and technology at the border by a tax on foreign remittances to the sources of illegal immigration.
That’s a tax on Western Union, Moneygram, bank transfers and money orders originating in the U.S. and destined for any of the countries that benefits from their citizens extracting wealth from our country and sending it home.
This is a fair tax because it burdens the groups that make immigration enforcement expensive. It doesn’t focus unfairly on Mexicans, but also on Central American sources of illegal immigration.
It also burdens illegal immigrants who have not come across the southern border, but have overstayed student and tourist visas. There are more illegal immigrants here from India, for example, than from Nicaragua.
It’s less fair that the tax on foreign remittances can’t distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants. Even U.S. citizens would have to pay the tax to send money to friends and family in countries that are sources of large numbers of illegal immigrants. But the fact remains that they are removing wealth from our economy and our communities, on a one-way trip to foreign countries. We’re entitled to take that into account.