Newly sworn-in California Gov. Gavin Newsom had a few words for President Donald Trump after he took a dig at California’s high-speed rail project on Wednesday.
“California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a ‘green’ disaster!”
Newsom responded calling the president’s tweet “fake news.”
“We’re building high-speed rail, connecting the Central Valley and beyond,” Newsom tweeted. “This is CA’s money, allocated by Congress for this project. We’re not giving it back.”
Newsom also took a jab at the president’s proposed US-Mexico border wall, which Congress has been loath to fund, tweeting: “Also, desperately searching for some wall $$??”
Trump forced a 35-day government shutdown, because a stopgap funding measure to fund the government didn’t contain a requested $5.7 billion dollars to pay for part of the wall. A current deal being reached in Congress would fund $1.375 billion for fencing, and it’s unclear if the president will sign it by February 15 and avert another partial government shutdown.
The truth is somewhere in the middle
As is the case with many political spats on Twitter, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and is far more complicated than can be expressed in a tweet.
On Tuesday, in his State of the State address, Newsom was far less enthusiastic about the proposed high-speed rail than his predecessor Gov. Jerry Brown.
“Let’s level about the high-speed rail,” Newsom said. “Let’s be real: The current project as planned would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to LA. I wish there were.”
He did, however, say that the state would complete the section from Bakersfield to the city of Merced, and also finish environmental studies for sections from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
A bond measure for California’s high-speed rail train, an ambitious plan to connect the state via a bullet train, was first approved by voters back in 2008. Congress, under Democratic control, then appropriated $3.5 billion for the project.
However, the high-speed rail has faltered due to mismanagement and other factors, the Los Angeles Times reported. The two issues that Newsom cited as the most prohibitive (cost and time to completion) have also been issues. The cost spiked from estimates of $33 billion to estimates of $77 billion or more, and the completion date has been pushed from 2020 to 2033.
Newsom in his speech seemed to ground Brown’s previous enthusiasm, focusing in on the already in-progress Central Valley project.
Rebecca Saltzman, the vice president of the Bay Area Rapid Transit board of directors, told the Los Angeles Times that the big “unanswered question” is whether Newsom will pursue the Los Angeles-to-Bay Area sections.
Some experts agree with Newsom’s decision, like USC engineering professor James Moore, who according to the Los Angeles Times is a critic of the project overall and thinks Newsom doesn’t go far enough to end it.
While others disagree with Newsom, saying that momentum is required, and that without enthusiasm for the project it will be harder to fund in the future. As Business Insider transportation reporter Graham Rapier wrote, “California slashing its ambitious plan to link San Francisco and Los Angeles is the latest example of the US falling behind.”
Overall, California is not “cancelling” the bullet train, as Trump tweeted, but, gleaning from Newsom’s speech, the governor wants to “be real” rather than ambitious with high-speed rail.