Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal used a moment in the national spotlight to claim the stimulus bill was "larded with wasteful spending," including money for what sounded like a theme-park ride.
"It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a 'magnetic levitation' line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called 'volcano monitoring,'" Jindal said of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, responding on national television to President Obama's first speech to Congress on Feb. 24, 2009.
Republicans had been blasting the $8 billion expenditure — and playing fast and loose with the facts at times — ever since the House-Senate conference committee stuck it in the final version of the bill.
Neither the House nor Senate versions had anything close to $8 billion for rail funding, and Republicans alleged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid added the money in conference specifically for a high-speed rail line from Anaheim, Calif., to Las Vegas, in Reid's home state.
That proposed project would be powered by magnetic levitation, a technology in which opposing magnetic fields along the track and in the train's undercarriage levitate the train a quarter-inch and propel it forward. "Maglev" trains, currently in use in China and Japan, are frictionless and fast. Proponents say the proposed Anaheim-to-Vegas train would reach 310 mph, zipping passengers between the cities in 80.5 minutes.
Reid has backed the project for years, and critics such as Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan and Sen. John McCain of Arizona alleged that's where all $8 billion was headed.
That charge was widely, and appropriately, criticized as false. The money is not an "earmark." Nothing in the bill stipulates that it has to go to the Anaheim-to-Vegas project. In fact, it's all but certain dozens of other projects — such as in the Northeast corridor, where key Republican supporters of the stimulus bill reside, or in the Chicago area, hometown of another influential individual — will compete and win a share of the money.
Now back to Jindal.
It's not quite fair to lump his comment in with the prior claims. He was more careful than some of the other Republican critics. Though he may have left some listeners with the incorrect impression that the Vegas-Anaheim project would definitely get some or all of the money — and he may have done so intentionally — technicially he did not say that. He said it would go to projects "such as" Reid's project.
Indeed, that project is an example of the sort that the $8 billion may fund, as proponents of it have pointed out repeatedly.
"It would be great if this was one of those projects that would happen to benefit from it," Reid spokesman Jon Summers said in an interview. (He was vague about Reid's role in getting the $8 billion in the bill, saying "it was something that President Obama wanted and Senator Reid as a conferee supported.")
Other boosters of the project also expressed optimism that they'll get some of the $8 billion. Anaheim-to-Vegas is not a federally designated high-speed rail corridor, but that doesn't mean it's out of the running. The Senate version of the bill, which had $2 billion for high speed rail, limited the money to such corridors, but the conference committee removed that requirement.
That's not to say that Jindal's claim didn't have some problems.
For one, the train would not stop at Disneyland. The plan is for it to stop 2 miles away at a proposed new transportation hub called the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. Jindal may have said Disneyland rather than Anaheim to make the project sound recreational or frivolous — but in doing so he stretched the truth a tad.
We also want to point out that although Jindal and just about everyone else who has talked about the $8 billion has said it's for high-speed rail, it's not just for high-speed rail. It's for high-speed rail and conventional "intercity" rail service. States and agencies all over the country can apply for a share of the money for all sorts of expenses related to city-to-city rail service, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
So Jindal was imprecise on a couple of counts — the train won't go to Disneyland and all $8 billion is not for high-speed rail. But he was not out of bounds in employing the Anaheim-to-Vegas train as an example of the sort of project that may be funded by the $8 billion. We find his claim Half True.