Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cracks Appear in California State Senate as High-Speed Rail Vote Approaches Station

Cracks Appear in California State Senate as High-Speed Rail Vote Approaches Station:
I've run out of clever things to say about trains. Sorry.Next week marks the announced

deadline
for the California state Senate to agree to issue
bonds to fund the first leg of the $69 billion high-speed rail
project. The deadline is intended to give the state enough lead
time to begin construction before the end of the year in order to
qualify for $3.5 billion in matching stimulus funds from the
federal government.
But Sacramento columnist Dan Walters is taking note that some
state Senate Democrats
are balking
. They might not have the votes after all:
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has publicly pledged
to approve construction funds and wants a vote next week. Just
weeks ago, Senate approval appeared certain, but with Republicans
solidly opposed, Steinberg needs support from 20 of the 24 other
Democratic senators. At the moment, the votes aren't there.
Three Democrats -- Mark DeSaulnier, Alan Lowenthal and Joe
Simitian -- have been openly skeptical of the project. At least
three others, and probably more, are unconvinced and uncommitted,
vote counters say.
Steinberg suffered a setback this week when Democratic senators
strongly objected to placing hundreds of millions of dollars in
bullet train property acquisition and engineering money in the
budget bill before a vote on proceeding with a 100-mile segment in
the San Joaquin Valley.
A revised budget bill that removed the disputed funds was
quickly written and placed on the floors of both houses
Wednesday.
Also of note: DeSaulnier is up for re-election in November,
term-limited Lowenthal is running for Congress, and term-limited
Simitian just won a seat on Santa Clara County’s Board of
Supervisors. San Jose, where a public vote to
reform public employee pension benefits
also passed in June, is
Santa Clara County’s seat. Gov. Jerry Brown may ignore the public
polls turning against the train, but not all Democrats have that
option.
Brown may regret ignoring the polls anyway. A commenter on
Walters’ column points out that issuing bonds for high-speed rail
could jeopardize Brown’s pet tax increase vote come November. I can
see the campaign ads in my head now blanketing the airwaves,
pointing out that Sacramento expects voters to approve a tax
increase after spending billions on a train project the majority no
longer wants.
Over at the federal level in Congress, House Republicans voted
today to
block future use of federal funds
on California’s high-speed
rail. The vote was along party lines and wouldn’t affect the money
already earmarked, so it will probably go nowhere fast (train pun
here).