In his first State of the State address, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he is ending the state’s high-speed rail project, also known as the “bullet train,” because it “would cost too much and take too long” to build. On the other hand, High-Speed Rail CEO Brian Kelly doesn’t think the project is over and done just yet.
“The Governor has called for setting a priority on getting high speed rail operating in the only region in which we have commenced construction—the Central Valley,” Kelly wrote. “We are eager to meet this challenge and expand the project’s economic impact in the Central Valley.”
By recent estimates, the bullet train would cost $72 billion, but overall costs would surely be higher. For example, the new span of the Bay Bridge came in ten years late, $5 billion over budget, and remains riddled with safety issues. The massive delta WaterFix project, on the other hand, would cost an estimated $16.7 billion and take 15 years to build.
Governor Newsom retains Jerry Brown’s tunnel vision but wants only a single tunnel under the Delta. That might save a few billion but another item in the governor’s speech hinted at more spending for another boondoggle.
Governor Newsom also appointed former California First Lady Maria Shriver to lead an Alzheimer’s Prevention and Preparedness Task Force. The move might jolt the memory of California patients and taxpayers alike.
Back in 2004, the $3 billion California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, Proposition 71, promised life-saving cures and therapies for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases. The cures and therapies, in turn, would send money flowing into state coffers, so the project, in effect, would pay for itself. It didn’t exactly work out that way.
Proposition 71 created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which in the early going handed out 91 percent of research funding to institutions with representatives on its governing board. The CIRM board even overruled the Institute’s own scientific reviewers, who twice rejected a proposal to fund a for-profit company on whose behalf CIRM founder Robert Klein had lobbied. CIRM also became a soft landing spot for over-the-hill politicians like Art Torres, a former state senator and non-scientist.
CIRM bosses bagged huge salaries but produced none of the promised cures and therapies. As the San Francisco Chronicle observed last September, “not a single federally approved therapy has resulted from CIRM-funded science. The predicted financial windfall has not materialized.”
No royalties appeared until last May, when a check of $190,345.87 arrived, not enough to cover the annual salary of CIRM’s part-time vice chairman.
CIRM proved itself a scientific and financial bust, and almost completely off limits to state oversight. Still, as the Chronicle notes, “supporters of CIRM and the research it funds are preparing to ask the public for another $5 billion in 2020.”
Maria Shriver’s former husband, Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a friend of Robert Klein and with other celebrities a huge backer of Proposition 71.
“California has always been a pioneer,” Schwarzenegger told reporters in 2004. “We daringly led the way for the high-tech industry and now voters can help ensure we lead the way for the bio-tech industry.” In the ensuing 15 years, the actor did not go on record about the dearth of actual results from CIRM.
Even so, California taxpayers should not be surprised if Shriver’s Alzheimer’s task force recommends more billions for CIRM in 2020. Likewise, Californians should be surprised if Governor Newsom and state Democrats give CIRM bosses everything they want, with no strings attached.