It's easy to see why a project to move the tracks of the Napa Valley Wine Train would attract critics of government spending. Money for chardonnay sippers in Napa? What an outrage!
So it was not all that surprising that Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma included it on a list of 100 wasteful projects funded by the federal stimulus program. Their report mocked the "$124 Vista Dome four-course lunch with a glass of sparkling wine" served in the dining car. Fox News commentator Glenn Beck then jumped aboard, targeting the track project with a trademark blast.
But it turns out the $54 million slated to move the tracks is about far more than easing the plight of idle tourists. And its inclusion by the senators suggests that identifying true waste will be a lot harder than calling news conferences and blasting seemingly easy targets.
As the senators may or may not know, the Napa River valley is regularly slammed by devastating floods. That costs taxpayers who prop up the National Flood Insurance Program. For a decade, a project partly financed by a county sales tax has sought to boost Napa's flood protection. Part of that effort involves moving tracks and raising the existing railroad bridge over the Napa River – used by freight as well as wine trains – to allow engineers to rechannel floodwaters.
In other words, the wine train isn't the beneficiary of federal funds. If anything, its operations will be inconvenienced for the sake of a flood control project that could save taxpayers over the long run.
To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.