This Train Is Bound for Glory?

Once, Californians were scheduled to vote on whether to fund high-speed rail in 2000. And in 2004. And in 2006. The timing never seemed quite right, so lawmakers ...
by | January 22, 2008

Train_2 Once, Californians were scheduled to vote on whether to fund high-speed rail in 2000. And in 2004. And in 2006. The timing never seemed quite right, so lawmakers kept delaying the vote. Now the vote is scheduled for this year, but, surprise, surprise, the situation is getting complicated.

The project aspires to be the first of its kind in the Unites States. Los Angeles and San Francisco would be linked by trains traveling at 220 miles per hours, easily the fastest in the United States.

The biggest problem has always been the price. The ballot measure would authorize the sale of $9.9 billion in bonds, which would pay for only a quarter of the estimated cost.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, an on-again-off-again supporter of high-speed rail, favors modifying the measure to only allow the bonds to be sold once private investors commit money of their own. Rail supporters in the legislature contend that the state will have to sell the bonds before the private sector will bite. 

From an Associated Press article, it doesn't sound as though Schwarzenegger will win this battle. But the bigger threat to the project may come from the voters. As the AP notes:

Schwarzenegger wants the November ballot to include many of his own spending proposals. They would include a $14 billion health care reform plan and $38.3 billion in new borrowing for school and university buildings, water projects and courthouse construction.

In addition, the state is facing a $14.4 billion budget deficit over the next year-and-a-half.

The budget situation seems likely to make voters more skeptical of large-scale borrowing. In other words, after all of the delays, California may end up voting on high-speed rail at precisely the wrong moment.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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