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No Basis for Conservative Opposition to the Texas Central Rail Project

In Texas, some conservatives wrongly think that opposition to high speed rail is a conservative principle. It’s true that high speed rail projects have typically been publically financed with taxpayer dollars and cost and ridership projections have typically fallen short, necessitating perpetual taxpayer subsidies. But those are problems with nearly all government programs, and unrelated to high speed rail technology itself.

There is a serious effort being mounted in the Texas Legislature to target and stop the Texas Central Rail project. Whatever the motivations behind this effort, it cannot be said that opposition to the Texas Central Rail project is based on conservative principles. In fact, those trying to stop the Texas Central Rail project in Texas are actually violating conservative principles.

Conservative principles emphasize that:

  • Government shouldn’t favor one player, business model or technology over another. It’s the job of markets, not government, to determine winners and losers. So when conservatives turn to government to kill high speed rail in Texas, they are actually violating, not asserting, conservative principles.

  • Government should encourage private investment. It is private investment, not government spending, that creates economic growth, new jobs, and new products and services for consumers. Because it is privately financed, the Texas Central Rail project does all of that, and the alternative to the project is ironically more taxpayer financed transportation infrastructure.

  • Taxpayers should not bail out private investments. Conservatives are still rightly angry about the bank bailouts, but Texas taxpayers will be under no obligation to pay for or bail out the rail project if it fails, and the project won’t break ground until and unless the private investors have sufficient confidence in the success of the project.

  • Eminent domain is necessary but limited by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution allows for private land to be taken for public use, so long as the compensation is just. The founders knew that a growing country would need that power, but it also created parameters to limit abuse.

Many conservatives in Texas are clearly confused about transportation policy. First, they were champions of privatization through toll projects, because they didn’t want to spend taxpayer dollars. Then, conservatives decided they didn’t like toll projects after all. Now, some are trying to stop a privately financed high speed rail project with no taxpayer liability.

You can finance transportation infrastructure through taxpayer financing or private financing. Those are the only two options. Given conservatives’ preference for private investment and risk-taking over government spending, they should be thrilled that the private sector is taking on this project, rather than the state.

Someday there will likely be a rail line connecting Dallas to Houston through Austin. The only question is whether it will be a private, free-enterprise project, or a TXDOT-managed project that taxpayers will be paying for forever.

This TEXByte is condensed from an IPI Ideas publication.