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California update: Effort to cancel high-speed rail bonds fails

Monday, April 19, 2010 - 05:54 PM

(Collin Campbell, Transportation Nation) --Assemblymember Diane Harkey had a good narrative going.  Before going into government, she was a banker.  She majored in economics in college.  She has been raising the red flag over California's bad bond rating and endless borrowing in Sacramento earlier and more loudly than many of her colleagues.

So, as she searched for ways to help right the ship of spending, she settled on the $9.95 billion in voter-approved bonds for high-speed rail.  Huge amounts of the money has yet to be spent.  A rarely-used article of the California Constitution allowed her to propose a reduction in the amount of borrowing for the project.  And so she did -- AB 2121 could have taken more than $9 billion out of the project's bank.

Today, her effort failed.  Assembly Democrats (Harkey is a Republican) amended her bill to save the bonds, but added stiffer requirements.  "The amendments basically present a six-year finance plan, so that we know what it is we're doing," Harkey said.  If passed, it would add more financial reporting, tracking mechanisms and long-term financial planning to the project.  The move shows two important things: the state is strapped and the California High-Speed Rail Authority cannot stumble in the footsteps of projects like the Bay Bridge, which went dramatically over cost.  Second, Markey, who is friendly with Tea Party people in her district, may represent forces Democrats everywhere will be listening to this year.  Even this proposal, in climate-conscious and transit-loving California, may face questions about the green of the money it costs before the green of the environmental impact it promises to have on the state's climate.

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