Few California governors have made themselves as visible as Gray Davis did for one week this spring, as he traveled the state pushing his transportation plan. He set the price tag at $5.2 billion in all his speeches and press releases, even though the actual cost would be three times that.
But there’s a lot less to the plan than met the eye during the Davis tour. What he showed, what Californians saw, may prove much more than what they actually get.
The Davis plan has something for almost everybody everywhere in the state: There’s $140 million for a subway to San Francisco’s Chinatown, $740 million to bring rapid transit to San Jose, $25 million for improving Highway 101 north of San Francisco, $256 million for a busway from downtown Los Angeles to the city’s congested Westside, $275 million for more carpool lanes in the Los Angeles area, $481 million for 15 projects in San Diego County and $210 million for projects linking fast-growing parts of the San Joaquin Valley to the Bay Area.
There’s $235 million for highway improvements in the Inland Empire portions of San Bernardino and Riverside counties and even money to study a 700-mile high-speed rail system linking Northern and Southern California.
The only thing there’s not is any assurance that any of these projects will ever happen.
For sure, no one can accuse Davis of lacking vision, even if some critics were saying right from the start that his plan didn’t offer enough. But will his vision be implemented?
Despite some complaints that his is a halfway plan at best, Davis may have offered far more than he can deliver.
For when it comes to paying for all he wants, this control-freak governor did not stick with things he can control. Of the 5.2 billion total state dollars involved, Davis originally planned to use $3 billion from the state’s unexpected budget surplus bonanza. Two months later, he added another $2.2 billion when the surplus went even higher. That obviated any need for the ballot proposition Davis had said he would float.
All this he can control somewhat, if not absolutely. State legislators with other priorities may want to spend some of the surplus money elsewhere or refund it to taxpayers. But in the end, Davis can likely jawbone them for the $5.2 billion his plan needs.
What’s left very uncertain is where the rest of the money will come from. For it will take another $10 billion in local and federal money to carry out all projects in the Davis plan.
One example is the $740 million Davis plans to spend in running rapid transit from Fremont in the East Bay to San Jose, a route that could prove vital to further development in the Silicon Valley. Total cost for this project is listed at $4 billion. Davis figures on at least $1 billion in federal money and plenty from local cities and counties. But many congressmen think California already gets too much rapid transit money. So this project may never happen.
The same for the busway to West Los Angeles, projected cost $595 million. Los Angeles faces the prospect of several billion dollars worth of judgments against its police because of the Ramparts Division corruption scandal which sent scores of suspects to prison on trumped-up charges and falsified evidence. Several corporations also are suing the city, claiming they’ve been overtaxed for years. Faced with these huge question marks, where will that city find $350 million for its share of a transportation project that’s bound to generate plenty of local controversy?
Davis asserted last year that legislators should “implement my will.” He’s now made his will known on transportation – but there’s absolutely no assurance anyone will implement.
“The executive proposed, the Legislature will dispose,” said state Senate President John Burton, a San Francisco Democrat. “We will add, subtract, multiply and divide.”
That’s another way of saying that while Davis may have generated reams of publicity for his plan, there’s much less meat to it than he implied. Only time will tell whether it’s all political flim-flam where what you see is a lot less than what you get.
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