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ICYMI: Scott Wilk: Bullet train derails state’s education

Proponents of the planned high speed rail system in California assure us that this beleaguered project will transform the Golden State into some sort of transit utopia.
“Imagine being able to ride a train from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than two hours,” they say. Or how amazing it will be when Southern California NFL fans can travel north to see a 49ers football game; just hop on the high speed rail for a smooth stress-free ride to Candlestick Park and back.
But should Sacramento really be pursuing this pipedream when according to the Los Angeles Times our state is facing a $28 billion budget deficit nightmare over the next 18 months?
Voters don’t think so. A recent University of Southern California Dornsife/L.A. Times poll showed that 59 percent of voters who voted for the project in 2008 would oppose the high speed rail project if given another chance to vote on it.
Despite this overwhelming public disapproval, Democrat-led majorities in both houses passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1029 into law, which provides funds for the first phase of the $68 billion high speed rail project.
The funding includes $4.5 billion in bonds previously approved by voters, which then, in turn, freed up $3.2 billion in federal funding that would otherwise have expired. The $2.6 billion will be used to build an initial 130-mile segment from Madera to Bakersfield in the Central Valley.
This section of track will not connect to any other rail system and will remain unusable for years. This first phase will result in $800 million of general fund obligations over the next 30 years.
SB 1029 comes in the wake of the recently passed budget, which was written entirely in secret by the Democrats. It did not attempt to address any of the challenges facing our state and to top it off it is completely dependent on Brown’s $45 billion tax increase initiative on the November ballot that is unlikely to be approved by voters.
The budget is the single most important legislative action passed each year. It should reflect our state’s priorities and values. But to no one’s surprise the Democrats have produced an unrealistic budget and its true consequences only hurt hard-working Californians.
If Brown’s tax-increase initiative doesn’t pass then budget trigger cuts take effect. Public education receives 99 percent of the trigger cuts despite the fact that education only accounts for 50 percent of California’s General Fund spending.
Under the trigger cut proposal, kindergarten-through-12th-grade education would take a $2.7 billion programmatic hit and community colleges would receive a $300 million reduction. Additionally, the University of California system and California State University system would face $500 million of cuts.
Interestingly if the competing Molly Munger $10 billion tax initiative passes, which would send its increased tax revenue directly to schools, the education trigger cuts would still occur.
The trigger cuts would also take place when state revenues increase, as they are projected to do. The California Department of Finance said the state’s economy is expected to grow by up to $4.9 billion this year. If public education was a priority, it would have been fully funded by the Democrats.
Shockingly, the governor’s budget leaves health care and welfare untouched by these trigger cuts.
Health care and welfare costs will continue to grow by 18 percent over the next three years and represent almost 30 percent of general fund spending. Why did Democrats leave them untouched?
A recent Signal editorial deemed this year’s budget as “a sleight of hand” move. The budget simply shifts money around, delays payments and offers one-time solutions without providing any real reform. It doesn’t include any language that would demand Sacramento to limit its annual spending.
A fair question to ask is: “Why are the Democrats committed to funding the high speed rail project at the cost of our children’s future?”
State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, recently urged lawmakers to support the high-speed rail project by asking, “How many chances do we have to vote for something this important and long-lasting?”
This might be your legacy issue Steinberg and Brown, but by proceeding in this reckless manner you are failing many future generations of Californians.
Scott Wilk is a small-business owner. He is a member of the California Republican Party appointed by Assemblyman Cameron Smyth.

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