SACRAMENTO — Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once allegedly remarked in private that “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic,” which is something he knew about given the kind of statistics his regime racked up. The point is a good one, though. It’s easier to be horrified at a particular person’s death than at a faceless list of fatalities.
I have a corollary that deals with a less-horrific subject: “Squandering tens of thousands of dollars is an outrage; wasting billions of dollars is a line item.” It’s why people get more upset about a double-dipping bureaucrat with a $250,000 pension than a potential $1 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities. The former has a face; the latter is just terminology.
California’s governments are masters at waste. Many Californians know something is amiss — especially after the Legislature recently voted for a $52 billion gas-tax increase over 10 years — but it’s easier to cite statistics than to give a name to the many little fiscal tragedies included in that budget.
Now Anaheim has its own transportation boondoggle representing everything that’s wrong in state and local governments. It’s hard to miss the unusual-looking 67,000-square-foot transportation “hub” that sits off the 57 Freeway near the Honda Center. It’s referred to as ARTIC, an acronym for the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. The name rightly brings to mind chilling thoughts of a vast fiscal wasteland.
The project’s supporters had originally predicted it would serve 10,000 riders daily, but it serves about 2,800 riders daily and a bit more on days with baseball and hockey games. It was supposed to pay for itself. But the Register reports it is only expected to earn $1.4 million of its annual $3.9 million budget. A lucrative naming-rights deal hasn’t materialized, as hoped for.
ARTIC was pitched as a great benefit for the city of Anaheim, but now its deficit will be paid by city taxpayers after the Anaheim Tourism Improvement District, representing resort-area hotel owners, decided not to pick up the tab as it has previously done (using its 2 percent hotel tax). That’s pretty cold given that ATID had pushed for the project, which was largely designed to help that district. Now the district will fund its own shuttle system to directly serve member hotels.
One justification for the massive hub, rising out of a parking lot like a giant turtle or overblown Quonset hut (take your pick), is the state’s planned high-speed rail system. Of course, backers of that $68 billion-plus bullet train system can’t yet figure out how to pay for it, especially with a Republican Congress that has its own boondoggles to fund. The current rail proposal is a far cry from the one promised to voters, which has been the source of much debate. The bigger problem for now is its backers can’t figure out how to cost-effectively send a train over the Tehachapi Mountains.
As the Los Angeles…