Assembly approves funding for high-speed rail project


The Assembly approved funding Thursday afternoon for the California high-speed rail project. Even though the Assembly approved the funding, the Senate vote Friday will be dicey and could jeopardize the project.

It's a make or break moment for California's controversial high-speed rail project. Lawmakers must decide this week whether to appropriate nearly $5 billion in voter-approved bonds to get this first segment started in the Central Valley and to modernize existing rail systems. An additional $3 billion will come from the federal government, but only if the votes are there.

"The Secretary of Transportation has made it very clear that they need to look at withdrawing the money from California and putting it someplace else. Without that federal match, we're not going to be able to go forward," High Speed Rail Authority chairman Dan Richard said.

The holdup is in the Senate where Democrats who support the project will vote "no." The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, for instance, has a hard time with borrowing so much money for the $68 billion project, while social services suffer. "The whole issues of the debt service, while we're cutting other programs, I could not vote for it and I think the plan as currently presented has potential for failure," state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said.

Now, Californians themselves may be getting cold feet. A new field poll shows Gov. Jerry Brown's temporary tax hike to boost funding for schools is still supported by 54 percent of likely voters, but when asked if funding for high-speed rail is approved, only 43 percent of them now say they support the tax. "The voters are seeing this tax that's coming as the high-speed rail tax," state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said.

However, staunch supporters of high-speed rail say now is the time to start thinking about how to ease unemployment and move people while cutting green house gas emissions "If we don't appropriate billions of dollars for infrastructure for high wage job creation for the Central Valley, we know we never will get more federal money," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said.

Stanford University watchdog group California Common Sense is out with a new report, saying high-speed rail will actually cost $200 billion and that may certainly sway some votes.

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