Legal Question Hangs Over High Speed Rail Funding

Morris Brown
Resident of Menlo Park and Founder of DERAIL, a grassroots effort against the California high-speed rail project

On July 6, 2012, the Legislature passed with a bare majority of one vote, the initial construction appropriation bill for the High Speed Rail project.

With Senator Darrell Steinberg and Senator Mark Leno assuming leadership, the bill was rushed through both legislative houses.  This appropriation bill was first presented to the legislature on the afternoon of July 3rd (remember July 4th is a holiday).  The Assembly approved on July 5th.  The Senate approved on July 6th. Not a single Republican voted for this bill. Four Democrats refused their leadership’s demand, and voted no. 

This legislation violates a key provision of the Prop 1A funding act. That provision mandates a detailed funding plan, approved by the Authority, be presented to the legislature no less than 90 days before action:

From Prop 1A.

2704.08

(c) (1) No later than 90 days prior to the submittal to the Legislature and the Governor of the initial request for appropriation of proceeds of bonds authorized by this chapter for any eligible capital costs on each corridor, or usable segment thereof, identified in subdivision (b) of Section 2704.04, other than costs described in subdivision (g), the authority shall have approved and submitted to the Director of Finance, the peer review group established pursuant to Section 185035 of the Public Utilities Code, and the policy committees with jurisdiction over transportation matters and the fiscal
committees in both houses of the Legislature, a detailed funding plan for that corridor or a usable segment thereof.

This required plan was never approved or submitted and even today is not to be found.

The leadership, lacking the votes, especially in the Senate, to pass this appropriation, suddenly included $1.1 billion in funding for the “blended” system. This additional funding, directed at both Northern California and Southern California regions, was enough incentive to convince some “no-voters” from legislators in those regions, to vote yes.

This $1.1 billion of funding being taken from Prop 1A funding is illegal in itself.  By law these funds are for High Speed Rail and not for “rail modernization” or “regional transit improvement”.  An opinion letter from the Legislative Counsel clearly states that at least some of the projects to be funded by this appropriation are not legal under Prop 1A.

So the Democratic party leadership pushed though this appropriation without any real oversight. Such oversight, which should have been afforded from hearings in the usual committees of both houses, could have un-covered these deficiencies.

This omission of an approved and required funding plan has just come to light. Searching for this needed funding plan in the Authority’s records, failed to find such a document and others have now confirmed the funding plan does not exist.

Will the Legislature, on its own, rescind this illegal appropriation, or will it be necessary to pursue, through the courts, the needed remedy?

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