Even the already committed stimulus funding could be stalled. Last week, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) introduced the American Recovery and Reinvestment Rescission Act, which would return the last $12 billion in unspent stimulus funds to the U.S. Treasury to help relieve the federal deficit. Half of that fund was committed to high-speed rail.
California has to start building the system by the federal deadline of September 2012. The state has spent about $200 million of the $2.25 billion stimulus thus far and, if it really gets going on the project, it will need a heck of lot more money. There’s also the recently approved $9 billion state bond fund, but with a fiscally shaky state treasury, that can’t be considered solid.
Then, earlier this year, the state’s stimulus overseer, Inspector General Laura Chick, unleashed the Bureau of State Audits to study the spending habits of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. It found 10 major problems, including a big problem with lack of documentation on work performed (time sheets, work summaries, etc.). Apparently, if you spend federal stimulus money you have to tell the feds what you’re spending the money on.
And the attorney general has been looking into some “incompatible offices” issues relating to two High-Speed Rail Authority board members, Richard Katz and Curt Pringle. Apparently the state has a government code (section 1099) that requires public officials to stay off boards that have the “possibility of a significant clash of duties or loyalties between the offices.” That is, when it comes to rights-of-way and station location matters, for instance, the final decisions would be/should be objective.
Katz, who is on the boards of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Metrolink commuter rail system, will leave his HSR board position Dec. 1. Pringle, who is chairman of the HSR authority, is also the mayor of Anaheim and a member of the Orange County Transportation Authority board. In Pringle’s case, he leaves the posts of mayor and OCTA at year’s end, so any AG action is moot.
On the positive side (that is, if you’re a HSR supporter), the authority’s engineers last week submitted to the board a recommendation that the project start construction near Madera, and would include the construction of two new stations – one in downtown Fresno and the other east of Hanford – and continue south to Corcoran for a total of 65 mi. Work is to begin in 2012. An EIR is due next September.
This is going to be a long slog. But make no mistake, thousands of jobs are at stake here, and not all of them public sector jobs. Then again, anything this ambitious is bound to be seen by many as a boondoggle.