July 5th, 2012, 6:43 pm
Posted by BRIAN JOSEPH, Sacramento Correspondent
The state Assembly approved $7.9 billion for the California High Speed Rail, then gaveled out for summer recess Thursday, leaving the state Senate to search for votes for the controversial infrastructure project.
The money includes $4.7 billion in Proposition 1A bond funds approved by California voters in 2008 and $3.2 billion in federal matching dollars.
The high-speed rail project was widely expected to get out of the Assembly. The question has always been the Senate, where several Democratic senators have expressed concerns about the project. Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg acknowledges the vote will be “tight.”
The Senate is expected to vote on high-speed rail funding in a floor session scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday.
In the Assembly, the appropriation was approved along party lines, 51 to 28, with no Republicans voting for the plan. (Former Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who became an independent prior to his unsuccessful run for San Diego mayor, also voted in opposition.)
Orange County’s two Democrats in the Assembly were the only representatives from the county to vote for the plan: Jose Solorio of Santa Ana and Tony Mendoza of Artesia, whose district includes a piece of Buena Park.
For months, critics of the high-speed rail plan have blasted it for rising costs, for unrealistic ridership projections and for barreling through homes, businesses and prime Central Valley farmland. But Democrats on Thursday dismissed those concerns, saying that the state faces a greater risk if it doesn’t move forward with the plan — even though California doesn’t know how it will pay for the project, now pegged at $68 billion.
“We have got to plan for the future,” said Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier. “Sure it is a risk and the future is not for the faint of heart. But there is a future for our children and we can leave them with more.”
The legislation approved by the Assembly on Thursday breaks down spending between the state funding and the federal money.
Of the $4.7 billion in bond funds, $1.1 billion would go toward components at the rail line’s “bookends” in northern and southern California. Another $819 million would go to upgrade existing transportation systems that would feed into the high-speed rail and $252 million would go for right-of-way acquisition, planning and design.
The remaining $2.6 billion in bond funds would be added to the $3.2 billion in federal matching funds to pay for the initial track line itself, which would run through the Central Valley. This is the most contentious part of the project. Critics have called this initial track line a “train to nowhere,” since it would simply connect Bakersfield to Fresno. Lawmakers included funding for improvements at the bookends to stifle some of that criticism.
But vocal critics still remain, in part because the state doesn’t know how it will fund the rest of the project. When voters approved Proposition 1A in 2008, they were told the project would cost $35 billion and that the price would be divided between federal matching funds, bond funds and private investment.
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