California’s high-speed rail project took a hit from a state judge on Friday but the repercussions from that decision could reverberate all the way to Washington, resulting in another obstacle for the bullet train. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny decided that the California High Speed Rail Authority “abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of the law.”
The 2008 voter approved ballot measure/bond requires that the project must have identified all the funds necessary to complete the initial segment of construction. As the project is about to break ground the necessary funds are not in place. Private investors have not stepped up as anticipated by the bond supporters. While there is some state and federal money in the Rail Authority’s bank account, there is not enough to complete the first leg of the project and see that it is operational.
Timing is everything, we are told. The judge’s decision comes as lawmakers in Washington are fighting over the federal budget. Rail appropriations may come into the crosshairs of those that are looking for places to trim the budget.
In addition, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that the House of Representatives transportation funding bill contains an “amendment that the California High-Speed Rail Authority said would effectively kill the $68-billion project. The measure would require the federal Surface Transportation Board to consider the project in its entirety rather than in segments.”
Not only does the authority not have the money for the entire project with no certainty where it would come from, it doesn’t have all the revenue for the first segment.
Hearing the ruling made by the Sacramento judge, members of Congress likely would consider the objections the judge identified and take a hardline stance on the California bullet train.
In fact, shortly after the judge’s decision was announced Friday, powerful California Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the House’s Majority Whip, released a statement that reads in part: “Today’s ruling reaffirms what Californians have known all along about California high-speed rail – we can’t afford this boondoggle that relies on a fundamentally flawed business model … this project should not move forward. I will continue to work to deny any federal funds going to this project in order to ensure Californians aren’t left on the hook for this flawed project.”
If Judge Kenny, after a future scheduled hearing, decides to stop state appropriations for the train, and if federal funds are denied, and private funds are nowhere to be seen, then the bullet train is done. If Congress stops federal funding of the train and private funding does not appear, then the burden falls on the state taxpayers. That was not what the voters were promised in the clear language of the high-speed rail ballot measure.
Judge Kenny rightly told the state officials they must live up to the promises made to the voters.