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Assembly approves high-speed rail funding; Senate passage expected to be difficult

July 5, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The California Assembly approved high-speed rail funding Thursday by a 51-27 vote, with the minimum votes needed to pass. The Senate vote to be held Friday is expected to be more difficult to pass.

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 the 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," said Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "Without that federal match, we are not going to be able to go forward."

The hold-up is in the state Senate, where Democrats who support the project will vote "no."

The chairman of the Transportation Committee, for instance, has a hard time with borrowing so much money for the $68-billion project while social services suffer.

"I think the plan as currently presented has potential for failure," said Transportation Committee Chair state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord).

Now Californians themselves may be getting cold feet. A new Field Poll shows Governor Brown's temporary tax hike initiative to boost funding for school 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," said state Sen. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale).

But staunch supporters of high-speed rail say now is the time to start thinking about how to ease unemployment and move people while cutting greenhouse 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," said state Sen. President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

Stanford watchdog group California Common Sense came out with a new report that estimates high-speed rail will actually cost $200 billion. That may sway some votes.


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