Viewpoint - August 4, 2010

Guest opinion: Propaganda won't help high-speed rail

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has just spent the taxpayers' money for a major "push-poll," released last week. A "push-poll" is a survey paid for by someone who wants to use the poll results to create the impression that there is public support for a particular position (as opposed to using the poll to find out what people actually think).

The authority said that their taxpayer-funded poll demonstrates "strong support for high-speed rail." Many newspapers obligingly repeated this obvious untruth. Respected Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Walters, however, called the poll exactly what it is: "propaganda." Taxpayer funded propaganda, at that.

Looking beyond the authority's press release headline, the reported results show that 55 percent of the persons surveyed "oppose or have concerns about" high-speed rail. That result is before the pollsters provided "additional information." After that additional information was provided, 52 percent of the persons polled continued to "oppose" or have "concerns about" high-speed rail.

In my view, a 52-percent majority that either "opposes" or "has concerns about" high-speed rail does not translate into "strong support." Quite the opposite. Furthermore, you can bet your bottom taxpayer dollar that the "additional information" that was provided to those polled did not include a reference to the scathing criticism that the authority has received from the Legislative Analyst, the State Auditor, and the respected transportation modelers at UC Berkeley. All of these experts and governmental watchdogs have found the authority's project to be mismanaged and based on "wishes" not facts.

It is discouraging that the new executive director of the authority has apparently not been able to change the authority's basic modus operandi. Repeatedly, the authority has tried to market its way out of a confrontation with the basic facts. That is still the authority's approach (using taxpayer dollars for the marketing effort).

It's time for the state Legislature and the governor to do something about a government agency that can't properly manage the project it is supposed to be advancing. Marketing push-polls won't get us the high-speed rail project that the authority keeps on promising.

James R. Janz, president

Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail


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