Thursday, February 28, 2019

Governor Newsom: Pee or get off the pot on high-speed rail

Figure 4 - High-Speed Rail Project Divided into Multiple Segments
From the East Bay Times:

Nonpartisan state analysts have a message for Gov. Gavin Newsom and the legislature: Make up your mind when it comes to bullet trains. In a report released Tuesday, the Legislative Analyst Office cautioned against any continued waffling about whether the state should complete its high-speed rail vision of 220-mph trains whisking passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours — a vision voters approved in 2008 under Prop 1A.

Speaking of Proposition 1A, the governor's transportation budget includes $445 million this year to service the bonds authorized by state voters in 2008.

More from the East Bay Times:

The legislature should take the turnover of the new administration to re-evaluate the project, the report said. If it remains committed to seeing the full route from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it should work to address the estimated $55 billion to $58 billion funding gap the project faces. If not, the legislature will want to consider how to modify the project, the report said, by scrapping it altogether or otherwise reducing its scope.

One way Governor Newsom could deal with the issue: call for it to be put back on the ballot for voters to decide with a measure that included a realistic funding plan. This is necessary not only to decide the crucial money issue but because the project that is now being implemented is not what the voters authorized on 2008.

From the Legislative Analyst's report:

The HSRA estimates that the amount of funding available to support the project will fall substantially short of the level needed to complete Phase I of the project. Specifically, as mentioned previously, the 2018 business plan estimates the cost of completing construction of Phase I at $77.3 billion. However, as shown in Figure 7, HSRA also estimates that under current law it will have access to between $19.1 billion and $22.4 billion through 2030, leaving a funding gap of between $54.9 billion and $58.2 billion. 

Under HSRA’s assumptions, this funding gap could be somewhat smaller—between $49.1 billion and $56.8 billion—if HSRA is able to borrow against its current allocation of 25 percent of cap‑and‑trade revenues through 2050. However, this would require the Legislature to take certain actions, such as extending the cap‑and‑trade program through 2050 and guaranteeing HSRA access to at least a certain amount of funding annually from cap‑and‑trade or other sources to repay investors. (The cap‑and‑trade program is currently authorized through 2030.) 

We also note that the funding gap would be about $900 million larger if the federal government ultimately terminates the FY10 grant, as discussed above. At this time, HSRA has not specifically identified how the above funding shortfall would be met. Thus, there is significant risk that the state would have to cover the large majority of any funding gap—likely from the General Fund. As we indicated in our review of the June 2018 business plan, it is crucial for the high‑speed rail project to have a complete and viable funding plan in order for the project to proceed.

President Trump wants the federal money back, including the $900 million mentioned above. 

All of this would go away if Governor Newsom quits flip-flopping and dumps the poorly-conceived and ruinously expensive project---or punts on the issue and gets it back on the ballot for voters to decide. Doing that would kill the project when voters realized how much it really was going to cost the state.

Often the claim is only implied and sometimes it's made explicit---that the high-speed rail project has been delayed by litigation. That's simply not true. 

To get a judge to delay a project until a lawsuit is ruled on requires an injunction, and you can't get an injunction under CEQA unless the judge thinks your suit is likely to succeed when he/she makes a ruling.

The High-Speed Rail Authority doesn't have to hire and pay for lawyers when it's sued, since the California Attorney General represents state agencies in court, like the City Attorney represents the City of San Francisco when its agencies are sued:

The [state]Attorney General advises the California High Speed Rail Authority concerning environmental law requirements for construction of the high-speed rail system...In this long running and complex litigation, the Attorney General has successfully defended the Authority’s programmatic report. The matter currently is ongoing in the state Court of Appeal where it involves the additional question of whether the federal government has preempted any state court environmental remedy (page 38).

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