Newly elected California Gov. Gavin Newsom schools Trump on the state’s high-speed rail project in one brutal tweet

California’s newly sworn-in Gov. Gavin Newsom had a few words for President Donald Trump, who took a dig at the state’s high-speed-rail project on Wednesday.

“California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a ‘green’ disaster!”

Newsom responded later Wednesday, calling the president’s tweet “fake news.”

“We’re building high-speed rail, connecting the Central Valley and beyond,” Newsom tweeted. “This is CA’s money, allocated by Congress for this project. We’re not giving it back.”

Newsom also took a jab at the president’s proposed US-Mexico border wall, which Congress has been loath to fund, tweeting: “Also, desperately searching for some wall $$??”

Trump forced a 35-day government shutdown that ended last month because a stopgap measure to fund the government didn’t contain a requested $5.7 billion to pay for his proposed wall. A tentative deal reached in Congress would allocate $1.375 billion for border fencing, and Trump has suggested he might reluctantly sign it. If he does not sign a funding bill by midnight Friday, the government will enter another partial shutdown.

President Donald Trump talking to reporters in the Oval Office on January 9.
January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

The truth is somewhere in the middle

As is the case with many political spats on Twitter, the truth lies somewhere in the middle and is far more complicated than can be expressed in a tweet.

On Tuesday, in his State of the State address, Newsom was far less enthusiastic about the proposed high-speed rail than his predecessor Gov. Jerry Brown.

“Let’s level about the high-speed rail,” Newsom said. “Let’s be real: The current project as planned would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to LA. I wish there were.”

He did, however, say the state planned to complete a section from Bakersfield to the city of Merced and also finish environmental studies for sections from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

A bond measure for California’s ambitious plan to connect the state via a bullet train was first approved by voters back in 2008. Congress, under Democratic control, then appropriated $3.5 billion for the project.

The high-speed rail has faltered because of mismanagement and other factors, the Los Angeles Times reported. The two issues that Newsom cited as the most prohibitive (cost and time to completion) have also been issues. The cost spiked from estimates of $33 billion to estimates of $77 billion or more, and the completion date has been pushed to 2033 from 2020.

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Newsom in his speech seemed to ground Brown’s previous enthusiasm, focusing in on the already in-progress Central Valley project.

Rebecca Saltzman, the vice president of the Bay Area Rapid Transit board of directors, told the Los Angeles Times that the big “unanswered question” was whether Newsom would pursue the Los Angeles-to-Bay Area sections.

Some experts agree with Newsom’s decision. Among them is the USC engineering professor James Moore, who according to the Los Angeles Times is a critic of the project overall and thinks Newsom doesn’t go far enough to end it.

Others, however, disagree with Newsom, saying the project requires momentum and will be difficult to fund without outright enthusiasm. An analysis by the Business Insider transportation reporter Graham Rapier noted that California’s difficulties with the project represented a shortcoming in the US as a whole when it comes to developing high-speed rail.

Still, California is not canceling the bullet train as Trump tweeted but, gleaning from Newsom’s speech, is instead lowering its ambitions with it.

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