If California Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Donald Trump laced up the gloves and stepped into the ring for a 10-round fight, we’d have to take the fit and trim-looking Newsom over Trump.
But boxing and politics are distinctly different disciplines, and in the back-and-forth battle between Newsom and Trump in the political arena, you’d have to take the big guy — which in this case, is the president of the United States.
The Trump administration announced last week that it was rescinding a $928-million federal grant, which was supposed to help with the first phase of California’s high-speed rail development through the Central Valley.
The governor announced in his first-ever state-of-the-state address that he intended to scale back on the ambitious plan to provide bullet-train transportation through California’s mid-section. We agreed in a follow-up editorial with Newsom’s decision, in large part because it was approved by voters as a $10-billion project more than a decade ago, but has turned into a $77-billion money pit. That seems an exorbitant amount of money to serve the interests of relatively few Californians, and virtually no one outside this state.
The timing of the Trump administration’s withdrawal of the money is a little suspicious, given that the announcement came only hours after California officials announced their intention to join 15 other states suing the Trump administration over the president’s executive order declaring a national emergency at our border with Mexico. That dispute will resolve itself in court.
But probably not the matter of the federal grant for the rail project, in part because the Federal Railroad Administration, in a letter to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said it intends to terminate the grant effective early next month, contending that state officials had failed to comply with terms of the grant. Congress had appropriated the funds shortly after California voters approved the rail project.
In normal situations, a reasonable person might assume that failure to meet the terms of an agreement would be grounds for withdrawing the funds, except that President Trump made it clear in one of his tweet sessions that the loss of the federal money was linked directly to California’s participation in the lawsuits against the president’s emergency declaration.
In other words, this is all about political differences, and little to do with the efficacy of a high-speed rail line connecting Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Newsom labeled the Trump administration’s actions “political retribution,” and Trump’s tweet leaves logical grounds to dispute that assertion.
Trump also has demanded California return the $3.5 billion the feds have already committed to the rail project, to which Newsom responded, no way, in no uncertain terms.
And here is why Newsom is standing his ground: Californians send about $380 billion a year to the IRS, which is about $13 billion less than it receives in federal programs and services in return for those taxes. So, Californians are getting the short end of that straw.
Meanwhile, state officials and Newsom are collaborating on revising the rail project’s scale. Members of the California Legislature are divided along party lines on the Newsom/Trump showdown.
The high-speed rail was a decent, futuristic dream of former governors, but like so many dreams, it turned into a nightmare because of miscalculations about what such a project would cost.
The flap between Newsom and Trump is purely political theater, one that is likely to continue.