The Whip Snaps at High Speed Rail... and More

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"Numbers don't lie," said McCarthy in pointing out several recent analyses critical of California's plans for high speed rail. (Photo: KQED/John Myers)

For the man whose Central Valley hometown is supposed to be an anchor point in the first construction phase of high speed rail, Rep. Kevin McCarthy seems intent on doing everything he can do block the project.

And given McCarthy is the third highest ranking member of the GOP congressional leadership, he may be able to do a lot.

"I think it's a bad investment," the House majority whip on Monday afternoon during a wide-ranging interview in Sacramento with a group of Capitol reporters.

McCarthy was in town as part of an ongoing speakers series presented by the Public Policy Institute of California. While here, he said he intended to chat with legislative leaders and the GOP caucuses inside the state Capitol -- a familiar setting for the former Assembly Republican leader, who left Sacramento for Capitol Hill in 2006.

Though he's focused mostly on national issues, high speed rail is an issue in which the Bakersfield Republican seems to have taken a keen interest. And he doesn't like what he sees.

"I don't think it's dead yet," said McCarthy. "But it should be."

This is a period of rough waters for the bullet train project, as its supporters -- most notably, Governor Jerry Brown -- continue to defend the project from skeptical analyses and outright grumbling in the pages of the state's newspapers. McCarthy's efforts in DC, while not the final word, are yet another hurdle.

The House whip scoffed at ridership projections for the system, especially those for Central Valley residents, and said the flaws in those numbers mean the project will end up relying on government subsidies if it's built. And the project's single biggest investor, even according to the most recent business plan from the state's rail authority, would be the federal government -- at more than 60% of the San Francisco Bay-to-LA Basin route.

"It really looks like California is asking the federal government to build them a high speed rail," said McCarthy. He described the project as in need of "adult supervision to come in here and say, 'This is not the right time or place.'"

McCarthy has asked for a GAO audit of the project and introduced legislation back in October to freeze federal funding.

As for other topics McCarthy chatted about...

On Redistricting: "I expected something better" from the citizens commission, said McCarthy, who joined other California Republicans in singling out the hotly debated state Senate maps. He pointed in particular to the splits of cities and counties in the maps, a criteria on which others have found the commission did a pretty good job.

McCarthy dismissed one buzzed about item from 2011 -- that he helped stifle any kind of serious (read: financial) help for overturning the state's new congressional maps. "The majority of the [GOP delegation] was not there" on a challenge, he said. And McCarthy did express criticism that campaign dollars that the state GOP will need in 2012 was used to mount the political challenge to the Senate map via a still-pending referendum. And he said while 2012 may mean a loss of GOP congressional seats in the state, an "off year" race in the future may swing that pendulum back the other way.

GOP's California Woes: McCarthy suggested that his party needs to use an approach similar to the one he and national Republicans used in recruiting new candidates and perhaps stopping the party's slide into permanent minority status -- that is, looking for candidates who may be active in their communities but not in elective politics. And he said that means not to "come in and pick [the candidate's] philosophical bent."

McCarthy also mused at length about possible challengers to Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- Rep. David Dreier, in particular -- and he boasted about an iPhone app he helped create for the public to monitor the goings-on in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • Anonymous

    Sounds like Rep. Kevin McCarthy is doing the oil companies and airline’s bidding. They want high-speed rail stopped because they know that their profits will plummet once people start taking trains instead of driving and flying. 

    That’s what happened in Europe. Airlines had to shut down many of their routes because they couldn’t compete with high-speed rail.

    We all know the GOP works for the corporations and not for the People. No surprise here.

  • A_acott1318

    Thank you Congressman McCarthy and he is
    absolutely correct, end of story.

  • Anonymous

    is why we are racing to the bottom in education – this is exactly why. 
    There is no Money Fairy.  There are difficult budget choices.  The
    nonpartisan Legislative Analyst said on 11/29/2011 in his HSR report that
    spending Billions on the HSR Boondoggle will take education money from the
    General Fund – “repeat, there is no Money Fairy” – and this will
    result in larger K-12 class sizes, much larger increases in CSU and UC tuition
    (more than the 26% raise we saw in UC this past 2011), and will result in less
    money to buy books for K-12, as well as cuts to social services and public protection. 

    CA State Senators Simitian (916) 651-4011 & Lowenthal (916) 651-4027 &
    Assemblyman Gordon (916) 319-2021 (Simitian, Lowenthal, Gordon control the CA
    HSR funds disbursement) & CA Tresurer Lockyer (916) 653-2995 & CA Gov
    Brown (916) 445-2841 to demand that they end the boondoggle now.  

    every dollar wasted on HSR in California, there is one less dollar for K-12
    children in CA, and another $1 raise in CSU and UC Tuition. Hell, the Guv is
    even going to voters to ask themselves to tax themselves in this relentless
    CENTRAL VALLEY ON HSR!!! Once the Boondoggle is started, the mantra will be
    “we’ve already spent $14 Billion, so we must spend more or we will have wasted
    the $14 Billion.

    was sold to voters in 11/08 is NOT what the current CAHSRA plan has muted into:
    in 11/08 (sold as $33 Billion completed including San Diego and Sacramento
    & CA liable only for $9 Bill) – now $117 Billion “current”
    estimate and doesn’t included SD or Sacramento) & CA liable for $114
    Billion (since feds only gave $3 billion and $0 from private investors).

    analogy: Ferrari dealership puts a 430 model up for sale (real cost $275,000)
    but misprints and advertises sale price as $2750.  You sign a contract,
    pay your $2750, then go to pick it up and they say you “owe them”
    $273,250!!, and since you signed a contract for $2750, you are legally bound
    and can’t break the deal – you must pay!)  BS!!  CAHSRA can’t intentionally
    lowballcosts by $70-80 Billion, sell it to voters for $33 Billion
    “completed” and then come back and say you were suckered. 

  • Cynthia

    California is is not asking the Feds to build us a rail. The truth is more horrifying than that. California is asking the Feds for money to line the pockets of the politically well connected, while never building a single linear foot of track.

  • Tjrsacto

    If McCarthy is such a powerfull GOP big shot why doesn’t he have the guts to run against Dianne Feinstein rather than trying to get other GOP electeds to run?  The reason is that he knows he would loose and so will they.  The focus of McCarthy has always been to promote GOP politics and to never really solve any problems.  He has made lots of government money by serving as nothing more than a partisan spokesman.  His type of worthless partisan leadership is the main problem with the GOP crew which is running our Congress.  Unfortunately, he got a safe seat in which to run for re-election, otherwise he would be actively supporting high speed rail which will provide thouands of jobs to central valley residents and mordern system of transportation.

    The central valley will remain in economic trouble as long as we are lead by partisan characters like McCarthy.  

  • Gerald Sutliff

    I love the idea of a HSR for California but I’m not so sure that it would benefit us.  What California needs is a modern rail system which would include, at least, parallel through out the Valley so that cargo and passengers can ride without interrupting each other.  More frequent trips, especially for runs between smaller towns,  advanced busing service in the cities along with substitutes.  A greater tax on gasoline to cover public transit and universal automobile insurance (I know we rejected this once before, but it was foolish). 

  • Anonymous

    We don’t have money for schools because we keep wasting our money on freeways and airports, and subsidies for oil companies and airlines.

    High-speed rail will actually make a profit for California, unlike driving and flying which is heavily subsidized by the state.

    How long are you going to keep spewing your lies, Florez?