Hijacking the Prop 1A High Speed Rail Funds

Morris Brown
Founder of DERAIL, a grassroots effort against the California high-speed rail Project

Bill AB-1889, a “gut and amend” bill, that appeared suddenly on the scene, is being carried through the Legislature by Assembly Speaker Pro Tem, Kevin Mullin, but is sponsored by the commuter train line, Caltrain.

The bill passed through the State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee (T&H) last Thursday ( 6-28-2016) on a 6 to 4 vote and is now headed to the Senate Appropriations committee to be heard on August 1.

At the Thursday hearing ( video on Youtube),  we learned the object of this bill is to permit Caltrain to access  High Speed Rail, Prop 1A, funding without further delay. Currently, because of lawsuits, sale of these bonds has been delayed.  The High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), has told Caltrain it will be unable to deliver to Caltrain this funding, at the present time.

Caltrain needs the funds for its “electrification” project.  The project costs have doubled to the now estimated $2.2 billion.  At the present time, over one-half of the proposed funding for the project, which includes $700 million expected from the CHSRA, is not  currently available.  Yet on Thursday July 7, the Caltrain Board approved the awarding of construction contracts of over one billion dollars.

This Prop 1A funding was appropriated by the Legislature in 2012, when SB-1029, the “bookend” funding bill, was approved. The problem facing the Authority and Caltrain, are restrictions in Prop 1A that must be met before such funding from the Prop 1A bonds can be sold.

At the bill’s hearing, Senator Cathleen Galgiani,  the author of Prop 1A (AB-3034) back in 2008, and  now  a member of the committee,  mounted vigorous objections to the bill. She sees these funds to be used at this time by Caltrain, as not being a part of the HSR project. (she is right).

But here is the bottom line on this proposed legislation.  When you read the text of AB-1889 , you see it does nothing more than insert into the California Streets and Highways code section 2704, a new item.  Section 2704 was inserted into California code when Prop 1A was passed by the voters on the 2008 ballot.  It is the bedrock code upon which Prop 1A functions. If the AB-1889 bill is approved, the new item(s), inserted into Section 2704, will alter the conditions under which Prop 1A bonds may be used. Simply said,  AB-1889 if passed, amends Prop 1A.

Being a voter approved ballot bond measure, Prop 1A is afforded protection under the California constitution from having the Legislature amend the measure, unless such amendment(s) are passed by the Legislature (2/3 vote) and passed on a ballot by the voters of California.

CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION

ARTICLE 16 PUBLIC FINANCE SECTION 1

….but no such law shall take effect unless it has

been passed by a two-thirds vote of all the members elected to each house of the Legislature and until, at a general election or at a direct primary, it shall have been submitted to the people and shall have received a majority of all the votes cast for and against it at

such election;

Nevertheless the Senate T&H committee approved the bill and sent it on.  Chair Jim Beall, slyly, never asked for pubic opposition to the bill, nor did he mention a letter from Attorney Stuart Flashman, which clearly noted the illegality of the bill.

This bill should be pulled from further consideration by the legislature. Caltrain should not have signed contracts, for its electrification project, until at the very least it had  secured real funding.

Interesting as noted from the hearing, the CHSRA has taken no position on AB-1889.

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