Gov. Jerry Brown has correctly warned lawmakers that an upturn in state revenues should not serve as an excuse for a new state spending spree.
He's right. Unfortunately, he undermines his credibility by proposing that California use $250 million from the state's greenhouse gas reduction program for his high-speed rail boondoggle.
Not only is this legally questionable, it's a dumb idea that would divert funds that should go toward meaningful energy efficiency programs. It demonstrates once again that the governor's desire to leave a massive legacy project supersedes rational decision-making.
The governor refuses to acknowledge that he has no viable funding plan for high-speed rail, and no way to deliver the San Diego-to-Sacramento system voters were promised in exchange for approving bond funding.
No matter how Brown and his hand-picked high-speed rail board chairman, Dan Richard, deceptively dress it up, the promised project simply isn't financially viable. If they want to change it, they need to go back to voters.
Meanwhile, the state faces a laudable, self-imposed deadline of 2020 for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. The goal was established in 2006 by passage of Assembly Bill 32.
A key part requires industries to reduce emissions, or purchase pollution credits that are sold at sophisticated auctions. The state gets a cut of those revenues, and that money is supposed to go toward other energy-reduction programs to help meet the 2020 goal.
After putting burdens on business and the state economy to reach the goal, it's essential that the Legislature and governor use the revenues responsibly on programs that provide the biggest bang for the buck.
High-speed rail isn't one. For starters, according to the state Legislative Analyst's Office, construction and operation would emit more greenhouse gas emissions than they would reduce for the first 30 years.
Thus, spending money on high-speed rail will not help the state meet the 2020 target. Even under the most wildly optimistic assumptions, the first trains won't be running until after that date.
But even if one takes a very long-range view, there is no evidence that high-speed rail is the best use of precious AB32 revenues when compared to, for example, subsidies for improving building insulation and vehicle fuel economy.
That's especially true when one considers that AB32 money available for high-speed rail would only cover a tiny portion of the current $69 billion estimate for a scaled-back bullet-train plan. It won't solve the underlying problem that the choo-choo is financially doomed.
Simply put, the governor is proposing to throw good money after bad.