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California Legislature approves billions of dollars for high-speed rail

July 6, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
California lawmakers have approved billions of dollars in construction financing for the first segment of what would be the nation's first dedicated high-speed rail line, eventually connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Republicans tried very hard to derail the controversial and expensive $68-billion California High-Speed Rail project. But that was shot down quickly by Democrats, who hold the majority.

And it was on to why the Legislature needs to appropriate nearly $5 billion in bond money to Phase One, which starts a 130-mile segment in the Central Valley, and to improve existing rail systems. The Feds would match with $3 billion.

"What happens if we say no? Where are we? Are we left with a future where transportation investment must be directed toward highways?" said state Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

The fate of high-speed rail was not certain in the Senate. At least 10 Democrats were "no" votes or on the fence.

State Senator Joe Simitian of Silicon Valley is afraid that voters will say "no" to raising taxes in November to fund other programs if they vote "yes" to high-speed rail.

"The only conclusion I can come to today is that this is the wrong plan, in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Sen. Simitian (D-Palo Alto).

Republicans were furious about the priorities that this sets.

"You simply couldn't find money to not cut education. But you found money for this fiscal train wreck," said state Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks).

In the end, the Senate got exactly the minimum votes need to pass high speed rail funding: 21.

Critics say the package was loaded up with extra $2 billion in rail improvements in the Bay Area and Los Angeles to change some Democrats' minds.

Initially this would mean thousands of jobs for the Central Valley.

The funding bill now heads to Governor Brown's desk. The governor will likely sign it, being a longtime supporter of the project.


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