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Saturday, July 7, 2012

California Approves Statewide High Speed Rail Infrastructure Project: JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!

Lawmakers Vote to Move Ahead With California Rail Link

Despite deepening doubts about the cost and feasibility of a $70 billion high-speed rail proposed to cross California, the State Senate on Friday narrowly approved legislation to spend $8 billion in federal and state money to begin construction, starting with a 130-mile stretch through the rural Central Valley.

The vote came as the federal government threatened to withdraw $3.3 billion in financing for the 520-mile project if the Legislature did not approve the release of state bond money to begin construction. Democrats and Republicans expressed fear that the project could be remembered as a boondoggle passed when the state is struggling through a fiscal crisis.

Polls suggests that voters have turned against the project after voting for it in 2008. Several Democrats, in arguing against the expenditure, warned that voters would be less likely to approve a tax package on the ballot this fall that Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said was necessary to avoid more cuts in spending on education and other programs.

The vote was a major victory for Mr. Brown, who had strongly urged lawmakers to approve the project, which eventually would link San Francisco to Los Angeles. He described it in keeping with the state’s tradition of grand projects and said it would pump money into the ailing economy. It was passed in the Senate with 21 votes, one more than was needed. The Assembly passed the measure on Thursday.

“How many chances do we have to vote for something this important and long-lasting?” said Darrell Steinberg, the Democratic president pro tem of the Senate.

Opposition cut across party lines. Speaker after speaker noted there was no source of revenue for the train line beyond the initial $8 billion, and that it was being built in rural California, far from where the bulk of the state’s population lived. Several noted the incongruity of embarking on such a major project weeks after passing a budget that included deep cuts in spending on schools and other programs.

“This is a colossal fiscal train wreck for California,” said Senator Tony Strickland, a Republican. “Members, this bill is spending money we simply don’t have here in California.”

Mr. Brown heralded the vote, saying, “The Legislature took bold action today that gets Californians back to work and puts California out in front once again.”

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Sources: CNN, LA Times, NY Times, PBS News, Youtube, Google Maps

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