A Republican lawmaker in the California Assembly introduced “lemon law” legislation Tuesday designed to derail state debt funding for the proposed high speed rail project to link Northern and Southern California.
Assembly Bill 1455, introduced by Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, makes use of Article XVI of the state constitution, which allows the Legislature to repeal that portion of the High-Speed Rail Bond debt that is not outstanding or contracted.
“The verdict is clear — it’s time for California to move forward and de-rail this ill-conceived project,” Harkey said upon introducing the bill. “Lack of future federal funding, oversight, accountability and inconsistency in route and planning should sound a strong signal to pull the plug. This one project has the potential to double our state’s debt and become a huge future drain on our state’s budget, while our existing rail and roadway infrastructure is in dire need of repair.”
Harkey noted that after years of negative reports from analysts and auditors, recently even the California High Speed Rail Authority’s own Peer Review group advised the Legislature and the governor discontinue funding.
Construction costs for Phase 1 of the project are now estimated at $98-$117 billion alone, not including operating costs. Work is slated to begin this year on the 130-mile stretch in California’s Central Valley between just north of Bakersfield and just south of Merced, using state funding already in place.
In November, CaHSRA officials predicted the project would employ 100,000 workers in the next five years, and generate another 1 million jobs moving forward.
“I’m very fearful that this plan will become a reality, extremely fearful,” Harkey said. “It could double our state’s debt. It will make us a Third World nation.”
“Clearly, the high-speed rail plan has been a complete failure up to this point,” said Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita. “I remember as a (Santa Clarita City Council) staff member back in the mid-’90s testifying in support of high-speed rail, and here we are, 15-16 years later, and no ground has even been broken. They want to start in the Central Valley, where quite frankly very few people will be using it. If the high speed rail (project) is going to survive, (CaHSRA officials need) to change the way they’ve been operating.”
Smyth said the public’s and the Legislature’s frustration with the high-speed rail commission has been bubbling for several years, and he’s not surprised that there would be an effort to completely de-fund or dismantle it at this point.
“I think bills like this are a good idea to really wake up the commission,” Smyth said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think the bill will make it through the process, but if it’s enough to get the commission to understand that they’d better change the way they do business, or they will continue to see similar legislation, then it will have its desired effect.”