Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Taxing and spending

Straight-shooting Republicans keep hitting themselves in the foot

Mitt Romney in Maine
If you want keen observations on Campaign 2012, you'll want to read the columns by my colleague Doyle McManus.

For example, in Sunday's column, McManus pointed out that the drawn-out and increasingly negative Republican presidential race will take its toll on Mitt Romney among independent voters.

Lo and behold, on Monday The Times reported on new poll results:

President Obama for the first time has opened a sizable lead over his most likely Republican opponents, thanks to growing support among independent voters, according to a new Pew Research Center poll….

Obama led [Rick] Santorum by 10 points among registered voters nationwide (53%-43%) and led [Mitt] Romney by 8 points (52%-44%). Obama’s lead over Newt Gingrich, who has faded in the GOP race, was 18 points (57%-39%). In previous polls in November and January, Romney and Obama were roughly tied. Obama has moved up because of support from independent voters, 51% of whom now back him against Romney, a gain of 11 points since last month.

Now, had you read McManus, you would have already had that information, gleaned from an insider: 

"The long primary fight is driving independent voters away from Romney," the Obama campaign's senior strategist, David Axelrod, told me last week.

The question, though, is why?

I mean, it's strange, really, how an entire party can be driven to political suicide by a small number of fervent "true believers."

Democrats saw it many years ago with George McGovern. Republicans went through it before with Barry Goldwater.

And here we are again. The Republican Party of today appears increasingly tone deaf when it comes to appealing to independent voters, much less swaying any Democrats.

Take this statement from House Speaker John A. Boeher on Monday, regarding the Republicans’ acceptance of the Democrats' goal of extending the payroll tax cut for middle-class Americans:

"This is not our first choice," said Boehner and his leadership team, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), in a joint statement. "But in the face of the Democrats’ stonewalling and obstructionism, we are prepared to act to protect small businesses and our economy from the consequences of Washington Democrats’ political games."

Sorry, John, you lost me at "not our first choice." 

Now, I'm sure many Americans will appreciate the Republicans' efforts on behalf of small businesses -- whatever that means -- and they'll also appreciate how hard it must be to put up with those stonewalling Democrats, who have the nerve to want to keep a tax break for regular working folks.

And I'm also sure that Sarah Palin and Santorum and the other tea partyers who live in what is apparently a parallel universe will vote Republican in November, even if that means voting for Romney.

But the race is won in the middle, where the independents hang out, and nothing the Republicans are doing right now has much appeal to those folks.

But don't take my word for it.

Just read Doyle McManus.


Carmen 'I am a liar' Trutanich

Obama, Romney and the battle of the bands

Santorum blames his wife for his criticism of those radical feminists 

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns in Portland, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press

Deficit-reduction numbers from the White House don't add up

Gene Sperling and Alan Krueger discuss deficit cuts
The Obama administration's proposed $3.8-trillion budget for fiscal 2013 claims to cut future deficits and debt by more than $3.5 trillion over the coming 10 years. That's not including about $1.7 trillion in savings from the spending restraints imposed by Congress over the last two years. But the administration's figure doesn't represent a real cut, at least not in the sense that most people would understand it.

If Congress and the administration kept current laws in place, the deficit would shrink from about $1 trillion in fiscal 2012 to $585 billion in fiscal 2013, then fall to about $200 billion in 2018 before climbing again, according to the Congressional Budget Office. President Obama's proposal has the deficit increasing to $1.3 trillion this year, then dropping to $575 billion in 2018 before heading back up.

So how does Obama claim $3.5 trillion in deficit reduction? By assuming a different baseline for the federal budget, one that involves several expensive changes in law. These include assumptions that all of the Bush-era tax cuts are extended, that the payroll tax holiday ends this month, that doctors and hospitals don't take a huge cut in their Medicare fees and that the Alternative Minimum Tax threshold keeps pace with inflation.

That's a more realistic starting point. Nevertheless, it stretches the truth to call it "deficit reduction" when the budget extends most, but not all, of the tax cuts that are due to expire. Similarly, it's (ahem) creative accounting to claim that the government is saving $741 billion by pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq as scheduled. Not that all $741 billion would be "saved"; about one-sixth of those dollars would be spent on transportation projects. As the White House put it in its proposal for reauthorizing the surface transportation program at a higher funding level:

[T]he reauthorization proposal will not add to the deficit as the budget proposes to use the "peace dividend" from ramping down military operations overseas to offset all costs.

It's also worth noting that Obama's proposal would eliminate the $1.2 trillion in savings from discretionary programs over the coming 10 years that Congress ordered last year as part of the debt-ceiling deal.

I'm not arguing that the White House is ignoring the deficit. Its proposals -- including $1.7 trillion in higher taxes and almost $450 billion in cuts to Medicare, farm subsidies and other mandatory programs -- are neither trivial nor pain-free. They just don't add up to $3.5 trillion in new deficit reduction, at least not when measured against the status quo.

-- Jon Healey

Photo: National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, left, and Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Alan Krueger discuss the Obama administration's proposed budget for fiscal 2013. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images


Romney shifts attack ads from Gingrich to Santorum

Rick Santorum in Colorado
When your campaign is swimming in cash, it's relatively easy to roll out new lines of attack as your rivals' standing ebbs and flows. So it is with Mitt Romney, who reportedly is paying more heed to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (and less to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich) as Santorum's poll numbers have started to rebound.

The issue Romney has chosen to pummel Santorum about? It's the latter's ability as a member of Congress to funnel money to his home state. Or, to put it less benignly, Santorum's support for "pork barrel" politics.

In my role here as the defender of the indefensible, let me reiterate my position -- unpopular here at The Times -- that earmarks aren't budget-busters. Retroactively canceling every pork-barrel project ever written into a bill wouldn't narrow the federal budget gap in a noticeable way.

Contrary to what former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (now a Romney backer) suggested in a statement Monday, earmarks aren't necessarily "wasteful spending." Most of the time, they're simply a case of members of Congress exerting control over dollars that otherwise would be left to federal or state officials to spend. And increasingly, earmarks reflect lawmakers' desire to write into law the priorities set by their state and local officials.

You could argue that the country would be better off without that kind of interference between lawmakers and bureaucrats. And you can certainly make a case that earmarks are a corrupting influence, given how much effort lobbyists have made in years past to win them for their clients. But it's laughable to say, as Pawlenty does, that supporting the pork-barrel system renders someone incapable of tackling Washington's budget problems.

If that's what Pawlenty really believes is behind the trillion-dollar federal deficit, it's a good thing he dropped out of the race.


Career politicians for Mitt?

A Puritan's "war against religion"

Isn't that Marge Simpson behind that veil?

-- Jon Healey

Photo: Rick Santorum campaigning Monday in Colorado, pleading for votes, not earmarks. Credit:  Chris Carlson / Associated Press

Mitt Romney doesn't want a tax break from Newt Gingrich

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich go mano a mano

You wouldn't expect Mitt Romney, who made a fortune on Wall Street doing leveraged buyouts, to be the one channeling the common man's outrage at a flat-tax proposal. Yet there he was at Monday night's debate in Tampa, Fla., critiquing Newt Gingrich's version as being a gift to, well, the Mitt Romneys of the world.

He's got a point, although not the populist one he apparently was trying to make. Instead, Romney's observation highlights how imprecise tax policy is, and how risky it is to try to do social engineering through the tax code.

The exchange between Romney and Gingrich began after the former House speaker was asked his reaction to the brouhaha over Romney's tax returns. According to a Washington Post transcript, Gingrich replied by touting the changes he wants to make to the tax code:

I have in my tax proposal an alternative flat tax on the Hong Kong model, where you get to choose what you want, and our rate's 15%. So I'm prepared to describe my 15% flat tax as the Mitt Romney flat tax. I'd like to bring everybody else down to Mitt's rate, not try to bring him up to some other rate.

After getting Gingrich to confirm that he would eliminate taxes on capital gains (and, presumably, other forms of investment income), Romney recoiled and said, "Well, under that plan, I'd have paid no taxes in the last two years." He did so with a tone of surprise and disapprobation, by the way, not gratitude.

Gingrich tried to defend the prospect of cutting Romney's tax bill by several million dollars annually by invoking the thinking of a famous former Federal Reserve Board chairman. "It was Alan Greenspan who first said the best rate -- if you want to create jobs -- for capital gains is zero," Gingrich said. "My No. 1 goal is to create a maximum number of jobs to put the American people back to work. It's a straightforward argument."

Straightforward, but not necessarily correct. Although the research isn't conclusive, one recent study found that reducing the capital gains tax rate has little or no effect on the amount of money invested. And the benefits of the lower rate accrue overwhelmingly to the wealthy, mainly because they have spare resources to invest.

That's the problem, generally, with trying to use the tax code to influence people's behavior. One rule of thumb in tax policy is that taxing something induces people to do less of it. But there's no way to tell that Romney would invest more of his money if he didn't have to pay taxes on the dividends, interest and capital gains he collected. Would he choose to spend more time investing and less time pursuing some other income source, such as writing op-eds or taking a gig on Fox News? Would he invest more and spend less on himself, his family or his charities? Or would the Gingrich plan simply provide a windfall that Romney and his peers don't need?

That's the implication of Romney's reaction at Monday's debate. If Gingrich wants to end taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest, he'll have to offer a more persuasive argument than Greenspan's dicta. He'll need to come up with evidence that lowering rates creates jobs, or at least makes it easier for businesses to raise capital. And at this point, the data don't make a compelling case in his favor.


Mitt Romney, the 15% man

GOP debate: Killer Mitt vs. President Newt

Does Romney really believe the things he says about Gingrich?

-- Jon Healey

Photo: GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney, left, and Newt Gingrich. Credit: Charles Dharapa / Getty Images

What does Romney's refusal to release his tax returns say about him?

Mitt Romney
The easiest thing to say about Mitt Romney's tax returns is that he should release them. Now, not in April. He can always supplement the document dump with his 2011 return when it's ready. Besides, by admitting  that he is taxed at the 15% rate imposed on capital gains, he already has confirmed suspicions that he belongs to the much-reviled 1%.  How much worse can the returns be? At this point he has the worst of both worlds: self-exposed as a fat cat and open to the charge of evasion. 

The second easiest thing to say about the controversy is that it is more proof of Romney's political tone-deafness.  After the offer of a $10,000 bet, the revelation that he once worried about pink slips,  his admission that he liked to fire people (I know -- he was talking about insurance companies) and his suggestion that he didn't make much in speaker's fees ($370,000), you'd think he or his media advisors would think twice about saying or doing anything that would exacerbate what the Republicans call class envy, especially before a vital primary election.  (They might also have contrived to leak to the media information about his generosity to the Mormon Church, though that might have been a mixed blessing with the evangelical vote.) 

The real question is whether Romney's ineptitude says anything about his qualifications for president or the policies he would pursue in the White House. Somewhat.  An  understanding of the current political environment  and care with language are important job requirements for a president. At least when Newt Gingrich offends people, he knows he's doing it.  But what about the "out of touch" argument -- that Romney's wealth irredeemably disconnects him from ordinary people (like George H.W. Bush's ignorance of supermarket scanners)  and, more provocatively, inclines him to positions like support for the lower capital-gains rate -- which benefits him? 

This is trickier terrain. FDR and, to a lesser extent, JFK demonstrated that you can be rich and sensitive to the problems of the down-and-out.  As for Romney's positions, armchair psychologists can attribute them to his privileged upbringing, but it's more likely that a) he actually believes in them or b) is pandering to Republicans more conservative than his secret self.  You don't have to be rich to buy the argument that a lower tax rate on capital gains encourages investment and thereby uplifts the economy. Rich people have the same right to be wrong (and Republican) as the rest of us.


Goldberg: People Inc.

Do voters care about Romney's tax returns?

Is Romney really the only GOP candidate who can beat Obama?

 -- Michael McGough

Photo: Mitt Romney holds a campaign rally at Winthorp University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, on Jan. 18. Credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

How Congress can save Social Security [The reply]

Social Security

Several readers have commented in recent days on the proposal to eliminate or raise the payroll cap as one means of assuring the long-term viability of Social Security. After my Op-Ed, "The golden trade-off," was put to bed, I came across an especially relevant comment from an especially relevant source, the Congressional Research Service, or CRS. 

The service has operated for nearly a century as a bipartisan helpmate for the House and the Senate. In September 2010, the CRS filed a report examining one of the specific issues posed in "The golden trade-off," i.e., what would be the fiscal impact if Congress in fact raised or eliminated the cap. Here is the bottom-line essence of the CRS report:

"Raising or eliminating the cap on wages that are subject to taxes could reduce the long-range deficit in the Social Security Trust Funds. For example, if the maximum taxable earnings amount had been raised in 2005 from $90,000 to $150,000 -- roughly the level needed to cover 90% of all earnings -- it would have eliminated roughly 40% of the long-range shortfall in Social Security. If all earnings were subject to the payroll tax, but the [taxable] base was retained for benefit calculations, the Social Security Trust Funds would remain solvent for the next 75 years…"  (My italics)

In other words, eliminating the cap on wages would place the Social Security system on firm ground for the next 75 years. In return, the benefits paid to high earners would no longer be capped; their taxes would rise, but so too would their benefits.

All of which gives an upcoming Congress the opportunity to achieve a stunning solution to a vexing political problem.

As a related aside, I'd like to respond specifically to commenter limitgovt. You state: "Since the benefits received under these programs are fixed and not adjusted for income, the tax is already extremely progressive when compared to benefits received." The CRS proposal would remove the inequity cited in the first part of your comment. As for the second part, allow me to disagree. It's true that the benefits paid by Social Security are progressive, i.e., lower-income workers receive relatively more in benefits compared to their contributions. It's equally true that the payroll tax itself is inherently regressive, and will likely be paid for decades before a single dollar in benefits is received. Fact: Social Security is progressive on the back end, but it's highly regressive on the front end.


Sensible taxation

Roth IRAs: A real 'fiscal Frankenstein'

Reorganizing government out of the subsidy business

--Gerald E. Scorse

Illustration by Paul Tong / Tribune Media Services

Prop. 13: Sacrosanct because voters want it that way [Blowback]

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., responds to Jim Newton's Jan. 9 column, "Why should Prop. 13 be sacrosanct?" If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

Jim Newton gives high marks to a lawsuit filed by former UCLA Chancellor Charles Young challenging Proposition 13 on the theory that the initiative placing it on the ballot in 1978 was a constitutional revision, not simply an amendment. A revision requires approval of the Legislature before going to voters; an amendment such as Proposition 13 doesn't. 

Newton gives the lawsuit too much credit -- and Proposition 13 too little.

Before Proposition 13, virtually all local governmental entities, including counties, city councils and school districts, could tax property in any amount with a simple majority vote of the body. Low-income families and fixed-income seniors were being taxed out of their homes -- literally. It was impossible for anyone to prepare a family budget because no one knew what next year's taxes might be.

Proposition 13 made several changes. First, it capped the property tax rate at 1% of the property's assessed value. Next, it limited the escalation of assessed value to 2% per year.  So if a person buys a house for $200,000 in 2011, he can prepare a family budget for 2012 knowing that his property's assessed value will rise to no more than $202,000 and his property tax will be 1% of that, or $2,020.

If all Proposition 13 did was cap property taxes, however, it would have been a hollow victory for overtaxed Californians because government bodies would have easily increased other taxes in their place. That's why Proposition 13 also required greater consensus for the state and local governments to raise other taxes.

Young's lawsuit, filed 33 years after voters passed Proposition 13, attacks only the requirement that new state taxes receive two-thirds approval in the Legislature. He argues that this change was a revision of the Constitution, not an amendment. Voters can propose amendments by collecting signatures on an initiative. Revisions, however, must be proposed to the voters by the Legislature. In either case, it is the voters who approve or reject the proposal. The difference is in the procedural route the proposal takes to arrive on the ballot. Young wants the courts, based on a procedural technicality, to tear from the state Constitution a provision that has been in place for 33 years.

Newton laments that because Proposition 13 made it harder to increase taxes, governmental bodies responded by creating a "crazy quilt of fees that often make little sense but can be put in place by majority vote." He writes that "getting rid of all that would be no bad thing."

It is naive to think that making it easier for politicians to raise taxes will get rid of existing fees. Rather, if Young wins, it means Californians can look forward to a crazy quilt of new taxes on top of the many fees they already pay.

But Young has little chance of winning.

Because courts are extremely reluctant to undo the expressed will of voters on pre-election procedural grounds, Young's case has two strikes against it at the start. That the will of the electorate has not changed much in 33 years also works against him. When Newton points out that Proposition 13 requires a two-thirds vote to pass "any tax increase," he unwittingly cites Proposition 26, an initiative approved by voters in 2010 that extended the super-majority threshold to fees, levies and other burdens that Sacramento lawmakers use in place of income or sales tax increases. Proposition 26 proved that a new generation of voters still supports Proposition 13.

Most detrimental to Young's lawsuit, however, is the fact that his claim has already been heard and rejected by California's highest court.  Immediately following the passage of Proposition 13, it was challenged on multiple grounds in the 1978 case Amador Valley Joint Union High School District vs. State Board of Equalization. One of the claims was that the initiative proposed a revision, not an amendment, to the Constitution. The California Supreme Court called that claim the challengers' "primary argument."  The Supreme Court upheld Proposition 13 against that claim: "Article XIII A will result in various substantial changes in the operation of the former system of taxation.  Yet ... the article XIII A changes operate functionally within a relatively narrow range to accomplish a new system of taxation which may provide substantial relief to our citizens." 

Young may disagree with that decision, but the decision is on the books. Courts decide cases on the basis of precedent, and the precedent has already been set. That, thankfully, makes strike three.


Could Prop. 13 fall?

Why should Prop. 13 be sacrosanct?

Prop. 13 and the issue of Amador Valley

The reply: Jim Newton responds to reader comments on Prop. 13

-- Jon Coupal

Photo: Howard Jarvis signals victory as he casts his vote for Proposition 13 in Los Angeles on June 6, 1978. Credit: Ben Olender / Los Angeles Times

Mitt Romney's taxes, and our mean streets

Danny Pierce
What is this, Kick a Person When They're Down Month?

First we had the case of a serial killer preying on homeless people in Orange County. Four men were killed before police apprehended and charged a suspect.

Then on Tuesday came the odd story of Pinkberry co-founder Young Lee, who in June allegedly used a tire iron to beat a transient who had asked him for money.

This follows the sad case this week of a Los Angeles woman who was arrested on suspicion of offering sexual favors  in exchange for Chicken McNuggets at a McDonald's drive-through.

Sure, terrible things happen every day, and not just in Los Angeles. But doesn't it seem that the mean streets are getting meaner?

Part of the reason, of course, is that the social safety net is -- well, I guess the polite term is that it's "fraying."

You know: We can't afford to do as much; we're taxed to death in California; businesses are fleeing.

But do you want to really educate yourself about California's fiscal situation? Then go read my colleague George Skelton's terrific column, "Voters need facts, not myths."

After you've read that, go to another story in The Times, "Homeless make up growing number of California welfare recipients."  Read how assistance to people struggling to work and feed and house their families has been cut from $560 a month three years ago to $490 now, with more cuts likely.

Finally, go read the story on Mitt Romney and his taxes.   

Asked Tuesday in South Carolina, the Republican presidential candidate acknowledged that his tax rate is about 15%. 

Which is about half what the average American earning $60,000 a year with no deductions is taxed at.  (Romney earns a bit more than $60,000; his wealth is estimated to be at least $250 million.)

The top tax rate is 35%. Romney has said he'd like to cut that to 25%. 

And after reading those stories, answer this question:

If Romney becomes president, how much meaner do you think our streets will become?


Charges filed in homeless slaying

Tattoo tied to alleged beating by Pinkberry co-founder

A few novelties in the latest Republican presidential debate

 --Paul Whitefield

Photo: Danny Pierce, 56, sits in the Santa Ana Civic Center area. Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Debt ceiling: What voting to raise the debt limit really means

House Speaker John Boehner on the debt ceiling
Warming up for a vote Wednesday on whether to raise the debt ceiling, Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) declared that he would vote no in order to "send a clear message that we do not condone the president's wasteful fiscal policies of so-called stimulus, bailouts and ever-larger government."

That's a fine sentiment, but it also illustrates how badly lawmakers mischaracterize what this debate is all about. The justification that Hultgren offered for voting against the debt-ceiling increase is typical,  not just of Republicans nowadays but of Democrats who cast symbolic votes against increasing the debt ceiling during the George W. Bush administration.

Simply put, the federal government has to borrow more money because of what Congress has done lately. A wide majority of Republicans and Democrats in the House voted in November and December for spending bills that relied on a significant amount of borrowed money. That borrowing isn't affected by President Obama's 2009 stimulus bill or by "bailouts"; those dollars have already been spent. In other words, they're part of the accumulated debt, not new debt. And a congressman blaming Obama for ever-larger government is like a father blaming his son for having too large an allowance. Obama may be all for big government, but Congress has ultimate control over the federal purse strings.

To his credit, Hultgren voted against the omnibus spending bills in November and December that are helping to push the federal government past its credit limit. But he also voted in favor of the House GOP budget last year that called for increasing the debt ceiling by almost $9 trillion over the coming decade.

Discretionary spending is just part of the problem, of course. Entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security make up a larger part of the federal budget, and increasing healthcare costs are the single biggest factor in Washington's long-term fiscal problems. But neither Republicans nor Democrats have tried to move bills that would slow that growth. The House budget resolution included a far-reaching proposal to phase out Medicare in favor of subsidies for private insurance, but the political backlash persuaded the GOP-controlled House Ways and Means Committee not to translate that proposal into an actual bill.

Obama and congressional Democrats can certainly be blamed for being willing (even eager) to spill more red ink than their GOP colleagues. And Obama's stance has given House Republicans a Hobson's choice: They can agree to spend more than they want to, or they can shut down government until the Democrats agree to more cuts. Not only would the latter be ruinous politically, it would irresponsibly cut off vital services for their constituents.

Nevertheless, the best proposal House Republicans could come up with to rein in federal spending -- their fiscal 2012 budget proposal, which they could and did push through the House without Democratic votes -- still failed to halt the borrowing, and did so in a very big way. Without an actual plan to stop the borrowing, the stance of debt-ceiling deniers like Hultgren just seems like false piety.

(That's not to say there are no worthy plans for closing the budget gap -- see, for example, the work done by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Bowles-Simpson commission, the "Gang of Six" and Bill Galston and Maya MacGuineas. All of these proposals are more sound than anything the White House or the House GOP has put forward.)

Here's another way to look at the issue. Imagine you told your spouse not to, but he or she went ahead and hired contractors to remodel your kitchen. You now face a choice: Do you borrow the money needed to pay for the work being done, or do you stiff the contractors? That's the position Congress finds itself in on the debt ceiling. Having committed the country to more borrowing, some lawmakers want to stiff the contractors.


Queueing up another (purely symbolic) vote

Debt ceiling: What's the excuse for voting "no"?

Government: Obama throws the GOP a debt-ceilng rope

Do House Republicans realize they just endorsed a higher debt limit?

-- Jon Healey

Photo: House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other House Republicans speak to reporters during the first big fight over the debt ceiling last year. Credit: Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images

California can't afford the bullet train [Most commented]

Bullet Train
Dump California's bullet train. At least, that's the overwhelming sentiment among readers who've been responding to the board's most recent editorial, "Keep California's bullet train on track." The board wrote:

The project is unquestionably risky, far more expensive than voters were told it would be when they approved nearly $10 billion in bonds to build it in 2008, and unlikely to be finished until years later than promoters had suggested. Polls show that the public is turning against it, and if new information emerges forecasting more serious troubles, even we might be persuaded to dump it. But we're not there yet, especially because the latest report, from the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group, doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know.

Here's what readers are saying.

The state cannot afford it

This is the biggest boondoggle in CA history and should be permanently shelved.  The voters were fed a lot of baloney when the first "guestimates" came out and it turns out, as is typical of these projects, that the ridership was vastly overstated and the costs vastly understated.  The state simply cannot afford the luxury of building a high speed rail network no one uses and be stuck with billions a year in debt.  This is a virtual image of all the "city financed football stadiums" that plague the countryside with massive debts.  The very instant the pols and unions get involved, costs just triple every six months.  Brown would be nuts to allow this junk project to see the light of day.


Too much to pay for nostalgia  

This utter waste of taxpayer money can never compete with the airlines.  There is a fast Amtrak train between DC and NYC, yet the airlines fly full.  Who is going to spend 2 hrs and 40 min on a train when an airliner makes the trip in 1 hour and can take you to San Jose, Oakland or San Francisco?  It sounds like a wonderful nostalgic thing to ride the train but passenger trains are on the way out.  


Simple economics

It's really simple. Let's say these billions and billions are spent for this boondoggle. Right now you can fly Southwest between L.A. and SF or Sacramento for $200 round trip. It takes an hour each way. Will this train, which will take several hours for the same trip be considerably less than flying? $100 round trip? $75? If the answer is no, it shouldn't be built. Also, what if you want to take a family to SF? Even if it's $100 round-trip. That's $400 for four people. So I can pay $400 to take a train that takes 3 or so hours OR, pay 1/4 the price and drive and it only takes a few hours more.

As can be seen, all it takes is someone with a basic understanding of economics to realize what folly this project is. For some reason the millions being spent by the state and consultants to study this for some reason fail to come to the same conclusion. Oh wait, it's not their money, it's the taxpayers. There's your reason folks.


Kill the train

This is another Government boondoggle. The costs we were sold on originally have skyrocketed way over budget. No one will ride it for what the price of a ticket would have to be. Please just kill it now. We have an enormous budget deficit. We need to quit spending, not building trains to nowhere that no one will ride. Kill it now!


Send the bill to the fiscal fools

The Times writers and editorial staff remain consistent.  Throw billions of debt at every political issue.  There is not one high speed rail that makes a dime on earth.  The estimated $93 billion for this fiscal nightmare is just a start.  That does not even include employees, pay, benefits, infrastructure, or maintance.  There are no estimated annual costs for actual "operation."

Fiscal fools should be sent the bill if they want this.  There is no free lunch.


A better way to spend the money

Do we really need yet another public project that is way over cost, will take way longer to complete than planned, and will never make money?  I work in infrastructure and believe me, that money would be much better spent rebuilding our crumbling cities.


Scrap the train; build more airports

You promoters of the bullet train are a bunch of delusional knuckleheads. Not one passenger train system IN THE WORLD can exist without being heavily subsidized by government money. In Europe the passenger trains ONLY carry 6% of the population! The train system in America, AmTrak, is subsidized by the federal government and still loses money! 

If I want to go from Southern California to San Francisco, I can hop on a plane and be there in less than an hour and for less money than it would cost to go by the proposed bullet train.
Trains are 18th Century technology. If people want to get from point A to point B fast, just build more airports!

--Lion Heart

*For clarity purposes, spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.


Still on board the bullet train

Bullet train: Readers fire away

Timeline: California high-speed rail project

California's bullet train: Boondoggle or boon?

Blowback: Mend, don't end, California's bullet-train program

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: California High-Speed Rail Authority artist's rendering of a high-speed train speeding along the California coast. Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority / Associated Press



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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