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By Alexander Lane February 27, 2009

Jindal's not as off the rails as some have said

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.

Critics questioned the premise that any of these was a waste of money, and some, including a few news organizations , suggested the high-speed rail claim was a well-worn lie.

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.

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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.

Our Sources, Transcript of Gov. Jindal's GOP response to Obama speech , Feb. 24, 2009, accessed Feb. 26, 2009

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 , accessed Feb. 26, 2009, GOP Stimulus Myths , Feb. 24, 2009, accessed Feb. 26, 2009

Detroit News, New economic stimulus plan is a huge mistake , Feb. 17, 2009, accessed Feb. 26, 2009

Kingman Daily Miner, McCain fields questions from Miner, Part 1 , Feb. 22, 2009, accessed Feb. 26, 2009, Obama plots huge railroad expansion , Feb. 17, 2009, accessed Feb. 26, 2009

Las Vegas Sun, Governors agree to back fast train , Dec. 22, 2008, accessed Feb. 26, 2009

New York Times, On That ‘Sin Express’ to Nowhere , Feb. 25, 2009, accessed Feb. 26, 2009

The Associated Press, Economic stimulus package on track for final votes , Feb. 12, 2009, accessed Feb. 26, 2009

CNN, Irresolvable Conflicts; Stimulus Delayed Again; Tiny Porky Amendments; Working against the U.S. , Feb. 12, 2009

Congressional Quarterly Today, High-Speed Rail Funding Gets Large Boost in Conference Negotiations, Feb. 12, 2009

Associated Press, Vegas, Midwest seek the $8 billion for fast trains , Feb. 22, 2009, accessed Feb. 26, 2009

Interview with Veronique de Rugy, senior research fellow at George Mason University, Feb. 26, 2009

Interview with Jon Summers, spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid, Feb. 26, 2009

Las Vegas Sun, Republicans don’t let facts get in their way , Feb. 26, 2009, accessed Feb. 26, 2009

Orange County Register, Stimulus funds could fuel Anaheim's fast trains , Feb. 16, 2009, accessed Feb. 26, 2009

Federal Railroad Administration, Rail Programs Funded Under The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Feb. 23, 2009

Interview with Neil Cummings, president of the American Magline Group, Feb. 26, 2009

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