Governor Jerry Brown of California stood side by side with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at the Port of Oakland earlier this week, building on the new momentum behind the state’s ambitious high-speed rail plans. Fresh off the actions of state legislators who withstood a tidal wave of right-wing opposition by approving funding for high-speed rail, the Governor will now preside over the most ambitious transportation modernization initiative in America.
Despite the rhetoric and unrelenting opposition from opponents of this plan (they’ve tried to turn high-speed rail into a four-letter word), these investments will make California the envy of the nation as travel convenience soars, trip times plummet, half a million people will work, and a new generation of tourists will converge on the Golden State.
When Governor Brown signed the appropriations bill into law, he bucked a recent unusual trend of governors (all Republicans if you’re wondering) eschewing job-creating transportation projects to score points with their party base. Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Rick Scott of Florida, John Kasich of Ohio, and Chris Christie of New Jersey have all wasted opportunities for massive investments in their transportation systems. These governors have been auditioning in front of extremists who forget that both Democrats and Republicans rallied behind historic infrastructure investments in the last century that came to define America as the world’s greatest economy. Clearly, we have two transportation visions on a collision course.
Christie did the unthinkable: he killed 51,000 jobs by ending a project to build a train tunnel under the Hudson River that everyone but the Governor knows is critical to the economic future of New Jersey and the entire Northeast corridor. Christie and his fellow GOP governors have dealt a severe blow to their states’ transportation systems and along the way killed 129,000 jobs.
Apparently their knowledge of American history pales in comparison to Governor Brown’s, whose state will reap the benefits of a modernized rail transportation system: 600,000 jobs to build the system and 450,000 permanent jobs; reduced congestion and air pollution, and 13 million fewer barrels of foreign oil consumed annually.
Landmark U.S. infrastructure achievements were built on visions ahead of their time, dating back to President Lincoln’s funding of the intercontinental railroad in the midst of the civil war. These things don’t just happen – they require political leaders in both parties who think about what their generation is going to leave for the next one. Right now this generation is leaving behind a crumbling transportation system.
Voters, beware of governors who build political careers at the expense of their state’s economy. Fortunately, California Governor Jerry Brown has chosen a different path. When given the chance, let’s hope voters choose safe and modern transportation systems – and smart investments that create good jobs – over political career-building in governors’ mansions.
Want to hear more? Listen to the discussion I had with Charles Showalter on TheUnionEdge.