Vice President Biden, an avowed friend of good government, is giving it a bad name. With great fanfare, he went to Philadelphia last week to announce that the Obama administration proposes spending $53 billion over six years to construct a "national high-speed rail system." Translation: The administration would pay states $53 billion to build rail networks that would then lose money—lots—thereby aggravating the budget squeezes of the states or federal government, depending on which covered the deficits.
There's something wildly irresponsible about the national government undermining states' already poor long-term budget prospects by plying them with grants that provide short-term jobs. Worse, the rail proposal casts doubt on the administration's commitment to reducing huge budget deficits. How can it subdue deficits if it keeps proposing big spending programs?
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Which is why Wisconsin, Ohio, and now Florida have refused federal money for high speed rail.
Here's the story from Wisconsin: The proposed rail line was to run between Milwaukee and Madison--a trip that takes a little over an hour by car on I-94 which connects the two cities and runs right past all the stopping points where the rail line would have stopped. There is already bus service between the two cities that costs $17.50 per trip. The number of stopping points meant that the "high speed" rail would only achieve a top speed of 57 miles per hour between stops, making it slower than going by car or non-stop bus. One way tickets were going to cost $30, and this doesn't count a state subsidy that was estimated to run up to $68 per ticket--bringing the actual cost of transporting a person to more than $100, a cost that would most likely be borne by state taxpayers. So Samuelson's article is right on the money.