Update on HSR in the State Senate
The fine folks at Capitol Weekly have a good overview of the HSR funding proposal, including some insights as to how State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg plans to handle the timeline to release the voter-approved bond funds:
“Our governor supports high speed rail and the Pro Tem supports high-speed rail,” said Alicia Trost, a spokesperson for Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg. “And the voters approved the bonds to pay for it, so we think it’s something we should move forward with.” There is similar support among the Assembly’s Democratic leadership.
“It is not likely we will act to appropriate the funds in the budget within our budget deadline of June 15, but we hope to act soon. We are in consultation with Secretary LaHood on that timetable,” Trost said. “We’re working with him and we don’t want to lose precious federal dollars.”
It’s not clear what “in consultation with Secretary LaHood on that timetable” means exactly, though I would assume it means Steinberg’s office is trying to get a few weeks’ extension from the Obama Administration on the deadline to release the funds.
That’s not the only thing Steinberg is asking of the feds, according to the San Mateo Daily Journal:
The leader of the California Senate called Wednesday on the Obama administration to say now whether it will commit more federal money to the state’s high-speed rail project if the president wins a second term….
Still, Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he hopes “the Obama administration itself would signal now that they intend to make a priority of the allocation of more federal dollars for California.”
The additional money would go toward extending high-speed rail from Bakersfield to Palmdale, the next stage of the project, he said.
Justin Nisly, press secretary for the federal Department of Transportation, did not directly address whether more money would be allocated. But he noted the administration has consistently backed high-speed rail and included passenger rail funding in every budget and transportation bill it has proposed.
I can see where Steinberg is coming from here, as it couldn’t hurt to show some of the wavering Dems that the president plans to commit more funds. On the other hand, there’s a mountain of evidence to suggest that DC Democrats remain strongly committed to HSR funding, including the president. Besides, they’ve already delivered the $3.5 billion. It’s not up to the White House to promise more; right now it’s up to the California Legislature to accept that money and follow through on what the voters approved in 2008 by releasing the bonds to begin construction.