Republicans propose halting sale of high-speed rail bonds
This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.
A California lawmaker has proposed legislation that would halt the sale of $9 billion in voter-approved bonds for the Golden State's embattled high-speed rail project.
Backed by a clutch of Republican lawmakers, Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (R-Dana Point) said the deficit-plagued state could not afford a "shiny new toy" while it cuts services to balance its books. Her bill, dubbed the "Lemon Law for High Speed Spending," would prevent bond sales to fund the 520-mile system between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
She cited the project's $98.5-billion price tag -- triple the initial projection of $33 billion when voters approved the bonds in 2008 -- and a string of negative assessments, including one from an independent review panel that recommended the Legislature not approve issuing the bonds to partly pay for the first section of track in the Central Valley.
"It was a nice dream," Harkey said, "but now we're getting into the reality of financing."
A recent poll indicates a sharp drop in public support for the project.
"The voters really believe they have been sold a lemon," she said, standing next to a box of lemons. "And they are suffering from buyer's remorse."
State Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel) called out Gov. Jerry Brown for proposing to cut billions of dollars in health and human services and public education while promoting the bullet-train project. "High-speed rail is not important enough to prioritize over our children's future or the most vulnerable populations of our state," she said.
Outside the GOP press conference, labor representatives labeled Harkey's legislation a "job killer," saying the bullet-train project held the promise of tens of thousands of construction jobs for an agricultural region battered by the state's sour economy.
For his part, Brown spokesman Gil Duran said it was voters who approved the bonds specifically for high-speed rail -- and that the governor was dedicated to the project. He accused Republicans of playing politics.
"They are grandstanding as usual and not getting anything done as we've come to expect," Duran said. "Find a public works project that hasn't had to deal with ridicule or nay-saying. The Republicans are playing a very specific role that has been played throughout history by those who wound up on the wrong side of it."
For the record, 2:07 p.m. Jan. 10: An earlier verison of this post misquoted Gil Duran, the governor's press secretary. He said "wound up on the wrong side of it," not "would up."
--Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: The California High-Speed Rail station in San Jose is seen in this artist rendering. Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority via Bloomberg