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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Closed door bullet train deals

Uploaded: Jun 12, 2012
In a maneuver that is arrogant and desperate, Gov. Jerry Brown and supporters of the bullet train will try to tie judges' hands if they find in favor of opponents of the controversial project.
As part of the budget negotiations this week, published reports have indicated that the governor and the Legislature, if he can persuade them to go along, will pass language that will not allow a judge to grant an injunction to stop the project if the judge finds for the plaintiffs. This will allow the absurdly expensive, ill-conceived project to try to meet a timeline that experienced public works professionals have said is almost impossible.
So, the environmental governor wants to flout the state's protections so he can get the bullet train under construction. Taxpayers and legislators ought to revolt as should both environmental groups and any group interested in reasonable government.
All of these efforts are designed to attract $3 billion in federal money to match some of the $9 billion that state voters approved in 2008 when they were sold a bill of goods. The project voters approved in 2008 looks nothing like what the high speed rail authority is planning to build in 2012 after dramatically altering the plan to slice about $30 billion from a price tag that had soared to almost $100 billion.
The first phase is supposed to cost $36 billion and neither the governor nor the high-speed rail advocates have any idea of where the $28 billion to finish it is supposed to come from. Private investors are going to want no part of it.
Brown seems driven to have the choo-choo as part of his legacy, regardless of the facts and far more valid concerns than convincing answers.
Sadly, $3 billion in federal stimulus money is mere chump change on this project and should have nothing to do with whether California commits to a project that threatens its budget for decades. Bonds for the high-speed rail will be repaid from the over-burdened general fund where money for education and social services has been slashed and support for the state university and university system have dramatically cut forcing sharp increases in fees.
What's even worse is the plan concocted in Sacramento will bypass the routine committee hearings and go directly to a floor vote in the guise that it's part of the budget package. The entire budget again is being considered in negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders behind closed doors. There will be no conference committee with representatives from both houses considering the budget publically.
That deal making is happening right now days because June 15 is the deadline for the Legislature to send an approved budget to the governor.
It only takes a simple majority to pass the budget so there are enough Democrats in both houses to approve the spending plan. They will have plenty of incentive to do so because their pay is docked for every day the budget is late.
So pay attention this week and see if there are enough principled Democrats in the Capitol to stand up for the law and tell the governor No.
The Senate budget committee responsible for the bullet train had included funding in its budget plan. So it will take politicians truly putting taxpayers first—a faint hope at best—to derail the funding.

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