A key financial deadline is looming for California's $68-billion high-speed-rail project. The California High-Speed Rail Authority is due to make a $63-million matching payment on April 1. But a 2013 Superior Court ruling has blocked the state, at least for now, from using its preferred source: selling bonds that voters approved in 2008's Proposition 1A. The state and federal government are sharing the project's cost.
On Capitol Hill, House railroads subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) introduced a bill on Jan. 16 that would suspend federal funds for the program until the state certifies it has non-federal sources for the matching funds. Denham said at a Jan. 15 hearing, "Frankly, after five years filled with cost overruns, lawsuits, lost promises of immediate job creation and reduced expectations, unless they can come up with a viable plan that meets the requirements of Prop 1A, I believe it's time to end this project."
Rail authority Chairman Dan Richard told the subcommittee, "I can say to you that, in concert with our federal funding partners, we will address these matters expeditiously and maintain the momentum of the program, and we will continue to meet our matching fund obligations."
Federal Railroad Administration Deputy Administrator Karen Hedlund testified that, to date, the state has met its obligations. But pressed by Denham about the financing situation, she added, "We are very concerned about it, sir, and that is why we are engaged in discussions with the authority about their plans."
Gov. Jerry Brown's 2014-2015 budget plan, announced on Jan. 9, gives the rail program $250 million from the state's cap-and-trade air-emissions program receipts. But that item and the rest of the budget require approval by the state Legislature. It isn't likely to act by April.
Denham's bill had 14 initial co-sponsors, all California Republicans. It may advance in the GOP-controlled House but would face long odds in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority.