Jeopardy for the Bullet Train with Cap-n-Trade Amendment?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Late Friday, Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes threw into the cap-and-trade negotiation mix a plan to require a one-time two-thirds vote requirement on how cap-and-trade revenues are spent. The vote would come no sooner than 2024. That proposed vote is a long way off but it could play a role in the funding of the controversial high-speed-rail project.

The two-thirds vote on spending when a majority vote is the norm would give minority Republicans a say in how the cap-and-trade money is spent just one time before the vote requirement returns to a simple majority. (This assumes in blue California Republicans remain in the minority over the next decade.) Perhaps the amendment would secure some Republican votes on the cap-and-trade extension bill achieving the two-thirds vote margin the governor seeks and making the cap-and-trade extension a truly bi-partisan effort.

The hotly contested cap-and-trade bill would extend the program to 2030 from 2020, thus setting up this special spending legislative oversight vote about half way through the extension period. The proposal, ACA 1, is a constitutional amendment, which would require voter approval. The bill is a classic gut-and-amend. Until last Friday, ACA 1 sailed through the Assembly and a Senate committee as a measure dealing with the effective date of ballot measures passed by voters.

The bullet train is being kept alive by cap-and-trade funds. A quarter of the money raised in the cap-and-trade auctions goes to funding the building of the train. With little prospect of future federal money and no substantial private investment, it is the state money that is moving Gov. Jerry Brown’s pet project forward.

Brown will no longer be governor in 2024. Some of those seeking the governor’s chair have not embraced the bullet train. Could the Mayes amendment proposal undercut the high-speed-rail if it remains controversial and requires a supermajority vote for continued funding?

It is hard to read the future seven years from now. But if the train keeps to its projected building timeline, the 119-mile segment from the Silicon Valley to the Central Valley should be nearly completed by then. Expected passenger service is supposed to start in 2025.

However, both the train’s budget and building timeline have not met expectations since voters approved a nearly $10 billion bond for the supposed $33 billion project in 2008. The cost has doubled since then.

What truly could be affected is Phase 2 of the bullet train project. The second phase would connect Los Angeles to San Diego and Merced to Sacramento. Passenger service to Anaheim has been projected to begin by 2029.

It is hard to imagine that if a large piece of the train is up and running by 2024 that efforts would be made to cut off funding or reduce funding dramatically. That is what Gov. Brown is counting on if the Mayes amendment survives.

Yet, funding for the train project certainly would be considered at that time. In the last “whereas” section of the bill that accompanies the proposed constitutional amendment, it states, “The Legislature, representing a diverse range of Californians, should assess the efficacy of the programs funded by the Cap-and-Trade Program to ensure those programs are furthering the state’s ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions…”

The high-speed-rail could face a tough time passing the efficiency test called for in that section of the law.

But here’s the key—the two-thirds vote requirement is a one time mechanism. First ACA 1 must pass the legislature and then the voters must approve the measure in 2018. When the two-thirds vote is used that one time in 2024 or beyond it could disrupt the bullet train. But once the majority vote on the cap-and-trade fund is reinstated the train could again get major revenue from cap-and-trade.

Of course, if the cap-and-trade program goes away so does the current funding scheme for the bullet train. Brown would then have to look for funds for the train in an alternate Greenhouse Gases program he threatened to create if cap-and-trade fails.

 

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