Monday, April 25, 2011

"tilting at windmills"

Congress' eleventh-hour compromise on the federal budget this month rescinds $400 million in funding for high-speed rail in fiscal year 2010, and eliminates federal funding for high-speed rail in fiscal year 2011. Yet California High-Speed Rail Authority officials remain committed to their vision of a high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The agency is beginning to tilt at windmills.

The congressional action means that California will not get the $19 billion in federal grant support the authority was counting on receiving by 2016, nor (almost certainly) the $2.4 billion in grants that Florida's governor declined. Technically, Congress' agreement did not rescind roughly $3.75 billion in federal grants to California, but this commitment is also at risk. About $715 million has not been obligated and could be easily rescinded. The remainder of these funds is obligated, and rescinding them would be more difficult but not impossible.

California taxpayers would benefit greatly from rescission, because every dollar Congress finds the courage to rescind from the California rail project is a dollar the state no longer has to match. In Sacramento, some lawmakers are beginning to connect the dots. Assembly Bill 76, introduced by Diane Harkey (R-Dana Point), would have defunded the California high-speed rail project, but it was rejected in a committee vote along party lines.

Above: An artist's rendering of the proposed San Jose stop on the $43-billion high-speed rail line. (California High-Speed Rail Authority / Bloomberg)

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