California labor unions say thousands of Central Valley jobs may never be created after the latest setback for the state’s high-speed rail project.
The Trump administration announced on Thursday it would take back $929 million in federal money, arguing the bullet train project has substantially changed since it granted its funds, and that California has failed to make enough progress.
“The Trump Administration is attempting to kill thousands of good, family-supporting jobs our state desperately needs,” Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, wrote in a statement.
But Jeff Michael, director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of Pacific in Stockton, said it’s too early to claim jobs will be lost.
“A lot is unknown. It depends on how the state reacts to the loss of money. In general, a billion dollars in construction spending could create about ten thousand job years, or years of employment in the economy,” Michael said.
“What we don’t know is whether losing this funding will actually be a setback for the project. Will California back-fill that funding from another source so that the project continues? Or is that loss of funding enough to derail the whole financial plan?” he added.
State high-speed rail officials said they’ll move forward with the network’s Central Valley portion even without the federal money. They said they’ll rely on state revenue, including that from California’s cap-and-trade auction to offset greenhouse-gas emissions.
The loss of federal money, and the fact that the Trump administration recently cut off cooperation on the project’s environmental reviews, could delay Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s newly proposed, 50 mile extension of the Central Valley track. It would run from Madera to Merced in the north, and from the outskirts of Bakersfield into the city’s downtown in the south.
Should the project stall, future engineering and manufacturing jobs could be in jeopardy in the Fresno area, according to Ram Nunna, dean of Lyles College of Engineering at Fresno State University. He said his college has established a transportation institute to train future railway engineers.
“The cancellation of the project,” Nunna said, would mean “that the the Central Valley will continue to be economically isolated. … It would change the minds of companies who were planning on starting new ventures in the greater Fresno area, especially to support a future [high-speed rail] maintenance facility.”
In a statement last week, Newsom called the termination of funds “political retribution,” illegal, and “a direct assault on California.”
Several Central Valley political leaders, including Republican state Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno, said it’s time for California to end the project altogether.
“They have torn up Central CA, destroyed thousands of acres of prime Ag land, taken homes and businesses,” Patterson wrote on Twitter. “The question now is, will they put it all back together before they run out of money & leave town? This is the beginning of the end of @CaHSR [the state’s high speed rail authority].”