Tad DeHaven

The California Senate’s recent vote to authorize $8 billion for the first segment of a widely panned plan for high-speed rail is another example of why the state remains on fiscal suicide watch. And because federal taxpayers are on the hook for $3.2 billion of the plan’s cost, it’s another example of why the federal government should not be subsidizing rail projects.

If California’s voters and the officials they elect want to blow the state’s taxpayers’ money on high-speed rail, then so be it. But taxpayers in the other 49 states shouldn’t be on the hook. Likewise, Californians shouldn’t have to subsidize rail projects in the other 49 states. Indeed, the federal Department of Transportation acts like a money laundering operation: money taken from each state’s taxpayers goes to Washington, gets “washed” on Capitol Hill, and then gets sent back to the states (minus a cut for the bureaucracy) as directed by the Beltway bosses.

Take, for example, Rep. Don Young’s (R-AK) “railroad to nowhere,” which was featured on Politico this morning:

Seven years ago, the veteran Republican created a cash gusher for the touristy Alaska Railroad by giving it a share of Congress’s mass transit bucks. In June, he stared down the Senate to keep the subsidies flowing for another two years. The price tag: $62 million. Those millions were part of a package meant to help mass transit lines carry commuters, not send cargo and tourists through the Alaskan tundra…

“Throughout my career in Congress, I have fought hard to ensure a level playing field between Alaska and its lower-48 counterparts—and the Alaska Railroad is no different,” Young said in a statement to POLITICO. “There is no reason why the Alaska Railroad should be treated differently than other American passenger rail systems—and that is exactly why this provision is so important.”

Critics say it’s too much to spend on a train that carried 412,200 passengers last year, few of whom actually commute. The New York City subway system gave more than 1.5 billion rides last year. Even Salt Lake City’s light rail carries 40,000 people per day.


Tad DeHaven

Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. Previously he was a deputy director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget. DeHaven also worked as a budget policy advisor to Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK).



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