On Friday, a judge ruled that California's high-speed rail plan had violated the rules set forth in the proposition that was approved by voters. He noted the train project did not have any planned source of funding beyond the first segment being built in the middle of the state where nobody would ride it and did not have the necessary environmental clearances for construction.
The judge hasn't decided exactly what to order yet, though, and he's asking for more information from both sides before making a determination. He could potentially invalidate the plan or the funding the state legislature has already approved to begin started.
There was no initial response from the train's biggest advocate, Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been living up to his reputation for sometimes living in his own little world by refusing to acknowledge any sort of problems with the train plan. He lived up to his reputation again when he was asked about the judge's ruling while he was at Lake Tahoe this week. The Sacramento Bee reports:
Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday that California's high-speed rail project will not be stopped by a judge's ruling that project officials failed to comply with provisions of Proposition 1A, the initiative in which voters approved initial funding for the project in 2008.
"It's not a setback," Brown told reporters at the Lake Tahoe Summit.
He said the ruling "didn't stop our spending, so we're continuing. As we speak we're spending money, we're moving ahead."
Brown seems to think that there's wiggle room here and that they'll be able to get the judge on board:
Brown said the ruling "didn't stop anything … It raises some questions, and I think they'll be answered within that judge's framework."
Let's go to what Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny actually said in his ruling (pdf):
[T]he discussion of funding under existing federal programs such as the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program and Passenger Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 explicitly recognizes that both programs are funded through the annual federal General Fund appropriations process, and that "…the appropriations process makes the timing and amount of funding more uncertain [than programs funded through a dedicated trust fund] at best." Thus, to "increase the potential" of actually obtaining funding through these programs, "…the Authority and other California officials will need to team with other states and high-speed rail stakeholders across the nation to promote high-speed rail as a program of national interest."
This discussion makes it clear that funding from these sources cannot reasonably be expected to be available without significant further work and legislative advocacy, and that, in reality, there were no anticipated or expected commitments, authorizations, agreements, allocations, or other means of receiving such funds at the time the Authority approved the funding plan.
Similarly, the discussion of funding through new federal transportation funding and financing programs (including a new dedicated trust fund structure, availability payments, and qualified tax credit
bonds) explicitly acknowledged that these sources are not presently available because such programs do not yet exist. As a result, "…it may take several years working with other stakeholders in the high-speed rail sector to obtain passage of the desired federal legislation."
This language makes it absolutely clear that there is, in reality, no reasonably anticipated time of receipt for any of the potential new federal funds described in the funding plan and the 2012 draft Business Plan, and that there are no expected commitments, authorizations, agreements, allocations, or other means of actually receiving such funds.
The Court therefore concludes that the funding plan does not comply with the plain language of Section 2704.08(c)(2)(D), because it does not properly identify sources of funds for the entire [Initial Operating Section].
TL;DR translation: "Show me the money." In order to comply with the authorizing proposition, the state needs to have funding set aside for a full leg from either Bakersfield to San Jose or from Merced to San Fernando. It has neither. The part it is attempting to build right now goes from Merced to Fresno, a distance all of 40 miles. After that, the future is cloudy.
From Reason TV – Reason Foundation VP of Research Adrian Moore sat down with transportation expert Wendell Cox to discuss the many problems with this project: