Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com
Published: Monday, Dec. 12, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has an obvious financial problem as it seeks to build a statewide bullet train system.

Its latest “business plan” says that it would cost nearly $100 billion to build the backbone of the system, but so far it has only $9 billion in state bonds and a little more than $3 billion in federal money.

The CHSRA also has a political problem.

The Legislature, which first proposed the bullet train bond to voters, is turning sour on its prospects, which means that it may not give the agency any more bond money to spend.

Meanwhile, the latest Field Poll says that voters are now strongly inclined to derail the bullet train.

Finally, the CHSRA has a knotty legal problem.

To make the project more palatable to voters, the Legislature included restrictions and guarantees in the 2008 bond ballot measure, such as a ban on operating subsidies and requirements that financing be lined up and environmental clearances obtained before construction begins.

The ballot measure’s fine print is now fodder for lawsuits and criticism from the Legislature’s budget analyst.

As laid out in the business plan, the analyst says the project – especially construction of a 130-mile test segment in the San Joaquin Valley – may be illegal.

“Proposition 1A identifies certain requirements that must be met prior to requesting an appropriation of bond proceeds for construction,” the analyst’s office says in a report to the Legislature. “These include identifying for a corridor, or a usable segment thereof, all sources of committed funds, the anticipated time of receipt of those funds, and completing all project-level environmental clearances for that segment.

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