Steinberg: HSR Funds To Be Decided By July 1
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has set a July 1 deadline for the State Senate to release the voter-approved high speed rail bond money so that construction can begin:
This time of the year in Sacramento typically finds June 15 looming large as the deadline for passing a state budget on time. This year, however, the Legislature has a second deadline to contend with as well.
Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Wednesday that he has set July 1 as the deadline for his house to appropriate $2.6 billion in bond funds for the proposed California High-Speed Rail. High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard said this week that July 1 is the date when the authority needs the bonds to be approved in order for it to move forward with the plan.
The high-speed rail project, of course, has been controversial across the state and in the Legislature. If the bond funds are not appropriated, the project would, for all purposes, stop dead in its tracks. Steinberg said he supports appropriating the funds but also wants to impose a schedule for making expenditures that’s conditional on certain benchmarks being met.
Steinberg said his office will be working on that over the next six weeks with an eye towards meeting the deadline on July 1. It remains to be seen whether the appropriation will garner the votes necessary to pass, although its generally thought it will, given that the project enjoys support among Democrats.
Steinberg has clearly heard the message from the Obama Administration that California cannot delay approving spending the HSR money without giving up the $3.5 billion in federal stimulus money for the project it has already been awarded. While some Senate Democrats such as Joe Simitian and Mark DeSaulnier have been trying to get the vote delayed, Steinberg knows that he is not in a position to cross the White House or the California Congressional delegation on this.
July 1 seems like a good date to have this resolved. June 15 is the deadline to pass a budget and with Prop 25 in place, you can bet the Legislature will have it done by then. That gives them 2 weeks to deal with the high speed rail funds, which should be pretty easy given that voters already made this decision for them in 2008.
Of course, we can bet that HSR opponents will be working as hard as they can to stop the project by getting the Legislature to vote against releasing the funds. HSR supporters have six weeks to make sure the Legislature does the right thing for California’s future and votes to start building high speed rail.