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The Great California Train Wreck

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Let me just say from the outset that I still miss California.  When I see news about my former state, it’s like reading the details of a train wreck after having safely disembarked a comfortable time ago.

My family and I got to live in Orange County for seven glorious years and another year in the Bay Area when the state was not convulsed with insanity on stilts.  

It was sunny nearly every day, with low humidity.  There were no bugs.  Our local amusement parks were Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm.  We did, as Californians are fond of boasting, go to the beach and then later that day drive up into snow-covered mountains just to say we did.  You can still do this.

The Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times, for which I worked as a news editor at the time, was so big and fat with ads that Times staffers swore that a deliveryman in Beverly Hills once hit a Chihuahua with a paper, killing it.  Whether it really happened or not, it was at least plausible.

Which brings us to something entirely implausible – the state-of-the-art bullet train,  which is now under construction.   Somehow, we got along fine without a bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco. A maniacal pipe dream of Gov. Jerry Brown, its price tag was increased last week to $77.3 billion.  The train’s projected opening date has been pushed back another four years, to 2033.

When this thing is done, they claim, you will be able to zip between Southern California and Baghdad by the Bay in only three hours.  Minus any time spent restoring track after a particularly bad earthquake.  

Of course, you can get to Frisco faster if you hop on one of the many daily flights from LAX to San Francisco International Airport or vice versa.  And by the time the railroad opens up, we might even be able to beam there, courtesy of Cal Tech and other brainy places.   

Meanwhile, California is in the midst of yet another fiscal crisis.  It’s fast becoming the mother of all welfare magnet states while welcoming a surge in illegal immigration.  In January, Gov. Brown announced a $1.6-billion deficit by next summer.  The total estimated public debt of the Golden State is $1.3 trillion.

What a curious time to throw billions at a train to the future.  Can you imagine how many fares it would take to recoup even a microscopic fraction of the expense? Even if passengers jump aboard and pack the roof like on the trains in Calcutta.

The cost alone is so staggering that it defies perspective. But here’s some.  The Big Dig, the fabulously costly patronage highway project in Boston that began construction in 1991 and opened in 1998, cost $22 billion, including interest. That’s nearly 10 times the initial projected cost of $2.8 billion.

In 2006, a main artery of the system was named for Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., the former Democratic U.S. Speaker of the House, who used his enormous influence to secure federal tax dollars.  

The “Chunnel,” the English Channel tunnel that has connected Great Britain and France since 1994, cost only $21 billion.  The Large Hadron “Super” Collider, which opened near Geneva, Switzerland in 2009 and measures particles traveling at nearly the speed of light, cost a mere $6 billion.  Even the Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, cost only $4.5 to $6 billion.

California’s fiscal folly would be laughable if everything that started in California did not wind up on our doorsteps from Alaska to Georgia.  In what may be a harbinger for advancing illegal immigration, just this past week, state Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) named the first illegal alien to occupy a state office, a student grant advisory committee.

California has 40 million people, more than a tenth of the U.S. population, and 53 members of Congress. Its economy is the sixth largest, at $2.4 trillion GDP (in 2015), behind the United States, China, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom and just above France and Brazil, according to International Monetary Fund figures crunched by the Brown administration.

Its politicians stride across the national stage as larger-than-life figures.  Think of Ronald Reagan and Nancy Pelosi.  Mr. Reagan is best known for winning the Cold War and restoring America’s confidence and prosperity.  But that was yesterday.   Mrs. Pelosi, the current House Minority Leader boasted last week about being a judge on Ru Paul’s Drag Race All-Stars show.  That’s where men who dress like women compete in various events.

“This idea of people believing in themselves, being themselves, taking pride in themselves, is not just a lesson for politicians but for everyone in the country,” Mrs. Pelosi told the Hollywood Reporter.

California – a train wreck in progress.  It’s impossible to look away.

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