Now that the stimulus bill has been passed by the House and Senate, Republicans focus on their new target: the legislation’s $8 billion for high-speed rail
Seemingly added at the last minute, the $8 billion for high-speed rail in the economic stimulus bill will provide a new opportunity in the United States to rebuild our existing infrastructure and enhance it with speedy train connections. Already, politicians and state officials in New York, Texas, and California (which is planning to ask for $2 billion) are looking to take advantage of the funds to advance their respective projects. The stimulus bill in no way specifies where the funds will be spent, and instead will allow the Department of Transportation to determine, through a competitive grant process, which rail projects will benefit from the money. But Republicans are already pointing at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for his push for the inclusion of funds for high-speed rail because of his desire to see a Los Angeles-Las Vegas line get built.
This morning, the Washington Post published an article entitled “Despite Pledges, Packages Has Some Pork,” and specifically mentioned the high-speed rail component:
“The deal provides $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, for example, including money that could benefit a controversial proposal for a magnetic-levitation rail line between Disneyland, in California, and Las Vegas, a project favored by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). The 311-mph train could make the trip from Sin City to Tomorrowland in less than two hours, according to backers.”
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was quoted in the Los Angeles Times:
“Tell me how spending $8 billion in this bill to have a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is going to help the construction worker in my district.”
The problem is, the bill has literally no mention of any Los Angeles-Las Vegas rail line. Though such a project would be considered along with every other rail project, the $8 billion would go directly to a federal grant program and decision-makers in the Transportation Department would consider such a line along with the many others that are likely to submit applications. What Mr. Boehner clearly does not realize is that the Midwest High-Speed Rail project, which will serve his district, is likely to receive some of the funding, so in fact the high-speed rail funds will likely serve a construction worker he represents.
So let’s be straight here: the economic stimulus bill provided no such “earmark” or “pork” for any specific high-speed rail project. It simply funds a new federal program whose appropriations, just like highways funds, will be distributed to meritorious projects throughout the nation not based on the needs of any specific senator but rather based on the role such a line would contribute to the creation of a nationwide rail network.