Although California is short by $51 billion for High-Speed Rail, the State Senate voted 21-16 nearly along party lines to move the project along. Although High-Speed Rail passed, kudos are in order for Democrat Mark DeSaulnier for saying “no” to the project with his vote and explanation.
The bill authorizes the state to begin selling $4.5 billion in voter-approved bonds that includes $2.6 billion to build an initial 130-mile stretch of the high-speed rail line in the Central Valley. That will allow the state to collect another $3.2 billion in federal funding that could have been rescinded if lawmakers failed to act Friday. The bill, which passed the state Assembly on Thursday, now heads to Brown for his signature.
DeSaulnier was firm in his comments which he shares the high-speed rail vision, just not this exact plan that its morphed into. His comments on SB 1029 where was broadcasted on The California Channel and are available online. I’ve transcribed what he stated:
“It’s amazing I think for all of us, at least for me, it’s amazing to be here and believe very strongly in the presidents vision and the governors vision when it comes to building a world class passenger rail system for California and having high speed rail as one component of that.
In the ballot initiative… there are four components to improving passenger rail, there is the urban component, commuter component, traditional inner-city rail, and high-speed rail. Somehow, we got into this discussion on the last one which I feel is an important part, but probably the least needed right now… inevitably when we do get to 16 million people, we will need it and I believe in it.
I find myself here today in an odd position of being absolutely convinced in the rightness of my no vote, but also being absolutely certain that I hope, and really feel strongly, that I am wrong about the risk we are taking.
For those of us that sat in these hearings for so long, for some of us, that is the question. Have we managed the risk for the benefit enough? Is this the way to implement this vision?….
This year, it’s the 75th anniversary of the greatest iconic symbol of that vision which is the Golden Gate Bridge. I want to remind people that was not just a vision but it was something that was executed right and is timeless. It actually came in on time, and under budget. And I will compare that with the current biggest public works project in the history of this state that I am all to unfortunately familiar with, the eastern span of the Bay Bridge that is currently $5.5 billion over budget.
And I bring this up only to assure people that my no vote is not because I am critical of the vision… not to judge anyone by their vote, I think we all come to this place because of our experience and our perspective. My experience and my perspective say’s that this is the wrong way and the wrong place to begin to implement this vision.
I know that my colleagues, like Senator Rubio, the real vision and passion for the suffering in the Valley and the 25-35% unemployment is a good reason to start there. However, right now with the risk that we have that if we approve this, the debt service will start somewhere at $350 to $380 million. It is said that the first year it will come out from a dedicated source, the weight fee, which is a little bit under a billion dollars right now but will be exhausted within two years and then it will come out of the General Fund. And just this last year we barrowed $400 million from that dedicated source. That source normally goes to the repair and operation of our existing infrastructure.
So as chair of the Policy Committee, one of the reasons this brings me such a great pause is that money is no longer there for our general operations. The California Transportation Commission is in the process of doing a needs assessment and that needs assessment says right now in its draft form we are 300% underfunded for our existing responsibilities for operations and maintenance of our existing system.
So just the debt service is going to be more of a debt service on that so you weigh that against the opportunity to get these Federal Funds and put them to work on a vision I believe in. And then having sat through the last couple of years with Senator Emerson’s and Senator Alquist of hours of very difficult testimony, we’ve cut $8 billion to health and human services I weight that as well.
So that has brought me to this place where I am convinced that for me I have to be a no vote and there is risk to that. I acknowledge that. I’ve had conversations with friends who are in Washington and they have told me that my position risks us losing that Federal Grant.
Now I want to particular thank the Governor and Secretary LaHood for their vision and their engagement. I would like to thank Senator Steinberg for allowing the three of us to engage in this civil and sometimes painful I know for him discourse and I think it’s a real comment on this chamber and this house in our ability to talk about the biggest public works project in the history of this state in a way where friends can disagree because their road took them to a different point when hey came to make the decision of how to vote than others.
So as we go forward, I know there is risk to those of us who vote no. If at the end of the day, there are 21 votes and this goes ahead, I will go out that door and start working as hard as I can to make sure that the fears that I have that this is the wrong decision won’t be realized.
If on the other hand, there are not 21-votes and we get stuck. I would argue that there is a better way to implement this and we have put a good amount of work into this last 14 days. I want to thank the transportation consultants…. Now there is a risk that we don’t act today and I am aware of it, but for me, I have to weigh those risks.
And lastly, to my friends in labor and organized labor who if not for them I doubt I’d be here and if not for their support and my passion for their belief and the men and woman who have made this state, built this state and often fought this country’s wars, that I would not want to be here if it was not to advocate for them. So some of them have questioned my loyalty to their believe and to their need for jobs.
Well I fear if this goes forward, they won’t get the number or the kind of jobs they want because the Valley Section will be litigated and will be delayed as opposed to putting the revenue in the urban areas. And this is not to take away from the Valley, it’s just to make sure that if we invest, we invest in projects that are part of the high-speed rail project and are required by the voters and the Federal Government, my belief and will bring immediate value and are shovel ready so they won’t be litigated which is why we came up with a Plan B… our staff was able to do it in two-week’s hearing 30-bills every week as we went through that.
Friends, so as we all get to this destination in our individual journey’s, I just want to thank all of you and be mindful that as we leave here, as monumental decision this is we still have a lot of work to do because one of the real problems and why we have gotten into this place is that because there is an independent authority that has not been responsive to the legislator. And when you make this decision and again I thank Senator Steinberg for the language he put in the bill to make sure there is more oversight. There is so much more work to be done.
According to Thursdays Los Angeles Times Blog
On Thursday, DeSaulnier said, “I remain unconvinced of the wisdom of their proposal. Which is another way of saying I’m still a no.”
DeSaulnier hopes he can offer an alternative plan, though it would mean defying the federal government’s demand for prompt action. DeSaulnier would cut funding to the Central Valley to just $2 billion and reallocate most of the money to rail projects in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His plan is based on a concern that California may never get the funding to build a complete $68-billion system and whatever money is spent should have an immediate value to relieving commuter congestion in the two main metropolitan regions of the state.
Under DeSaulnier’s plan, known in the Legislature as Plan B, $400 million would be allocated to Los Angeles’ Union Station, reconfiguring the tracks so trains could pass through rather than having to back in or out of the station. Another $264 million would be allocated to grade separations between Los Angeles and Anaheim, where tracks cross streets. The combination of the Union Station projects and grade separations would allow Metrolink commuter trains to cut up to 20 minutes off their travel times, according to Senate sources.