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By Ric Llewellyn
It has been quiet in Kern County. Thank goodness Gov. Jerry Brown came to town. Two things impressed me from his news conference last Tuesday.
First, I got the impression that the people who should know all about the impact of Proposition 30 on local school funding are not well informed. This makes me think they may also be inattentive to optimizing this temporary opportunity for Kern County education.
Brown was asked about Agriculture Education Incentive Grant funding. His response quickly went to Proposition 30 revenue and the focus on local responsibility and accountability for allocating those funds.
Proposition 30 temporarily raised income taxes and directed that some of the added revenue be allocated to local schools and community colleges. The text of the law states that these entities "shall have sole authority to determine how the moneys... are spent...."
Governor Brown then asked if education officials at the news conference could clarify the potential relationship between Proposition 30 and the Agriculture Education Incentive Grant.
I would hope that passionate leaders would always be ready to share their vision. But rather than interpreting and applying the opportunity created by Proposition 30, officials simply reiterated that local control is better than distant and centralized control.
I wonder if anyone has been brainstorming the windfall of options local schools have received. Or are we stuck with a one-track bureaucracy devoted to an inflexible educational convention?
No one should expect a detailed answer to AEIG funding and Proposition 30 in a news conference. But it would be nice to have a deft and reassuring response about our new opportunities and an invitation to get involved with local boards where this new potential will become reality.
The governor also fielded a question about high speed rail. If you don't know, I am an opponent. But when those who support HSR speak I listen to what they have to say. And in this case, my opposition was reinforced.
First, Brown tries to shame us into support. This is America! Other countries have bullet trains and we should too!
But keeping up with the Joneses is a dangerous justification for any action. So the governor recounts the economic benefits to Kern County -- jobs, rising property values and, of course, an eminence among the lesser towns of California with no bullet train connection.
There is no shame in rejecting high speed rail. If the rationale is flimsy and the numbers don't add up, we should say "no" and the politicians better listen.
Then there was this whimsical argument in support of HSR: "President Lincoln did it." Brown likened California high speed rail to the Transcontinental Railroad project begun in the 1860s.
The purpose of the bullet train is to get people who can afford a ticket to Los Angeles, Sacramento, the Bay Area and a few points in between.
The purpose of the Transcontinental Railroad was NOT to get people from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Lincoln, Neb! It was to open the West, especially economically.
Existing transportation infrastructure was simply inadequate to support the growth potential of the western United States. Travel was slow. The capacity for shipping commodities east or west was inadequate in timeliness and volume. We needed the Transcontinental Railroad.
High speed rail? There is no compelling need like there was in the middle of the nineteenth century. There would probably be nominal economic benefits for hosts of the bullet train. But there will be nothing like the growth and expansion that resulted from the Transcontinental Railroad project.
Brown also infers that since the government funded the Transcontinental Railroad then, it must be a good idea for the government to fund HSR now. But wait a minute!
With the Transcontinental Railroad the RAILROADS repaid the bonds authorized by the government. With high speed rail the TAXPAYERS repay the bonds.
Of course railroad operators and concessionaires will incur some taxes that will end up in the general fund. But it is the people of California who are being asked to bear the financial burden of this project.
Even a generation of Californians as yet unborn will be paying for the bullet train after many of us are dead. Or at least moved out of state.
So, thanks Governor Brown. I learned that there might not be enough vision in our local schools' administrations. I hope parents and teachers will take the challenge and get involved with improving the school experience for Kern's students. There's money out there to do it. We can affect its allocation.
I also learned that politicians can be glib when it comes to invoking the legacy of national heroes like Abraham Lincoln. If we give it a little thought we might find these self-serving comparisons actually oppose the politician's proposition. For me it confirms that high speed rail is still a bad idea.
-- Ric Llewellyn is a community columnist whose work appears in The Californian's Local section every third Saturday. Email him at llewellyn.californian@ gmail.com. These are Llewellyn's opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.