Monday, November 30, 2015

Putting high-speed rail back on the ballot

Judge Kenny (Rich Pedroncelli, A.P.)

The California Constitution guarantees the people the right to legislate directly by way of the initiative process. That remedy is available when the State Legislature fails to do what the people think should be done.

How about High-Speed Rail? Despite continuing revelations that the state's High-Speed Rail project is mismanaged and poorly conceived, neither the governor nor the legislature (nor the High-Speed Rail Authority itself) have been willing to be honest with the public about massive construction problems in Southern California and about $9 billion in anticipated cost overruns. The Authority's failure to disclose has attempted to hide the utter and monumental absence of adequate construction funds needed to finish even the very first High-Speed Rail segment.

CC-HSR reported on those issues in its last Community Report. If you need a refresher, click this link.

So, what can be done? "Taking the initiative" is one way to respond, and this bulletin is to let you know about THREE initiative measures that could mean the end of the state's ill-conceived High-Speed Rail Project.

First, an initiative has qualified for the November 2016 ballot that will require a vote of the people whenever the state proposes to use revenue bonds for a project costing over $2 billion. General obligation bonds require a vote of the people, but revenue bonds don't, and that has provided a loophole for boondoggle projects like High-Speed Rail. Click here for the text. If it passes next year, this initiative will plug a loophole that the High-Speed Rail Authority could use to raise money for its project without voter approval. That's good news!

Second, there is more good news in proposed Initiative #2: This initiative has not yet qualified for the ballot, but after receiving an official title and summary from the Attorney General, it will move to the streets for signature gathering. Fewer signatures will be required than will be required for Initiative #3, described below, since this Initiative #2 proposes "statutory" as opposed to "constitutional" changes. This should make it easier to qualify this initiative for the ballot. Initiative #2 would wind down and terminate the state's High-Speed Rail project. Click here for the text. If this initiative qualifies for the November 2016 ballot, the voters will finally have a chance to express their opinion about High-Speed Rail now that it has become so totally clear that the current project is a huge boondoggle.

Finally, consider proposed Initiative #3: This initiative must also receive a title and summary from the Attorney General before signatures can be gathered. It would take unspent funding allocated for High-Speed Rail by Proposition 1A and transfer that money to water projects. If Initiative #3 qualifies for the ballot and passes in November 2016, this Water/High-Speed Rail initiative might well terminate the state's High-Speed Rail project as a practical matter by depriving it of its major funding source. The initiative, which proposes changes to the California Constitution, would have impacts going beyond High-Speed Rail. Click here to see the text.

The Judge who is overseeing the Tos case, which will go to trial next February, will allow the petitioners to use the latest revelations about cost overruns and construction problems in their legal attack on the state's compliance with Proposition 1A. The new evidence is devastating, clearly showing how the Authority has not met the requirements of the Bond Act.

The petitioners' brief has been filed, and here is what the attorney for the petitioners has said: "It's understandable why the Authority wanted this evidence kept hidden. It directly contradicts the cost estimates in the Final 2014 Business Plan. The Business Plan's deceptively lowered costs successfully pulled the wool over legislators' eyes. Two months later, they gave the Authority billions of dollars in a multi-year gift of climate change mitigation funds. It's hard to believe that would have happened had they known what a bottomless money pit the project had become." In this case, the Authority's deception strongly supports the petitioners' arguments, and may lead directly to a decision against the project.

Rob's comment: 

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