CRP Blog

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

High Speed Rail: A Barometer for Green Jobs?

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A majority of Californians have woken up to the fact that the High Speed Rail plan they were duped into supporting three years ago is an unrealistic, overpriced boondoggle. Instead of the affordable, job-creating, cutting edge panacea they were promised, they've since come to realize HSR is going to cost a lot more than advertised, and it's promised jobs will cost our economy more money than they produce. That's also true of the much touted "green economy" on which California's Democrats have placed all bets on our state's economic future. One can only look forward to the day a majority of Californians will similarly wake up and realize they're being sold a similar bill of goods.

For years, independent analysts insisted that the true cost of a HSR system between Los Angeles and San Francisco would cost much more than the $33 billion voters were told in 2009 by HSR's nine-member board. After years of delays and denials, the board's own revised business plan pegs even its now scaled-down HSR system will cost at least $98.5 billion. This cold blast of reality has rightfully turned Californians against the project. A recent Field Poll shows a solid majority of Californians would reject HSR if it were presented to them for a vote today.

This short-circuiting of expectations for HSR and the public's response provides us an excellent societal barometer for predicting the demise of California's admirable but perhaps naive faith in the green jobs panacea. Obviously, research and development into alternate energy systems is very important-- no one is arguing against that. But what's been missing in the green jobs frenzy, just as was missing for too many years in the HSR debate, is an honest appraisal of the cost and the sustainability of green jobs, especially while California’s economy not only continues to struggle, but also lags behind the rest of the country.

Unfortunately, Democrat Governor Jerry Brown not only remains convinced that High Speed Rail must proceed, he's just as equally enamored of all things green. Faced with the prospect of how to restore the two million jobs California lost during the Great Recession, he's charging full speed ahead with his agenda to wring green prosperity out of the Golden State by regulations and edicts, even though there's never been an example of any economy, anywhere, at any time throughout the history of man, that has grown and expanded by mandate of government.

The non-partisan Brookings institute released a report a few months ago which shows green technology jobs accounted for just 2 percent of employment nationwide and only slightly more, just 2.2 percent, in Silicon Valley. The same study also shows that Silicon Valley's green sector actually lost 492 jobs between 2003 to 2010. Brown is putting all of California's eggs into the green jobs basket, even while his own estimates include a total increase of only 500,000 green jobs statewide in the next nine years, and we have nothing more than his promise that such will occur.

In 2008, Californians voted in favor of High Speed Rail, but provided with new information they are now ready to make a new decision. In 2010, Californians rejected Proposition 23, a common sense suspension of AB32, the green economy regulatory scheme. As that scheme unfolds, Californians will see for themselves the price of, well, just about everything increases. They'll come to realize that the green jobs "created" by regulation and mandate came only at a cost to every other sector of our economy. They will see California continue to lag behind the rest of the U.S., even while Jerry Brown and his fellow bureaucrats insist their failure is nothing more than proof that they haven't done enough.

One can only wonder when the public will tire of, and revolt against, the empty rhetoric. One can only wonder what new collection of information will be enough to jolt them to the simple truth that once again, they've been sold a bill of goods. California needs jobs of all kinds, not just green jobs. When it comes to jobs and the economy, we owe it to ourselves to be color-blind.

Governor Brown has promised 500,000 green jobs by the end of the decade, but so far, we’ve seen nothing to indicate that those jobs may become reality. By now, the public should be expressly tired of empty rhetoric. And, Brown should be colorblind when it comes to jobs; Californians just want jobs, they don't care what color they are.

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