State Senate Approves Funding For High Speed Rail; Senator Lowenthal Votes "No"; Senators Wright & Lieu Vote "Yes"


(July 6, 2012) -- As carried LIVE on, the state Senate narrowly voted this afternoon (July 6) -- without a single vote to spare -- to approve a funding package for CA's High Speed Rail "bullet train" that could dramatically cut travel times between CA cities from the southland to the Bay Area on a route that includes the Central Valley.

Image: High Speed Rail Authority

On the vote, state Senator Alan Lowenthal (D., LB-Paramount) voted "no" and preceded his vote with a floor statement (audio link below). State Senators Rod Wright (D., LB-Inglewood) and Ted Lieu (D., southbay) both voted "yes." Senator Wright waited until the last few seconds -- when the tally teetered at 19-16 (two votes short of passage) -- to cast his vote (which made the tally 20-16). A final "yes" vote (we believe by Senator Negrete-McCleod (D, Pomona) enacted the measure, which was supported by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D, Sacramento).

Prior to casting his vote, Sen. Lowenthal (D., LB-Paramount), who has questioned the High Speed Rail Authority's financial projections, explained on the Senate floor that he would be voting "no."

"I support a lower risk strategy than this strategy," he said. He added that he hopes he's proven wrong on future outcomes and additional resources but said "I am concerned that that's not yet in place" and for that reason couldn't support the plan before the Senate today.

To hear Senator Lowenthal's full Senate floor statement, click here.

Senate Dem leadership (Senate President Pro Tem) Darrell Steinberg (D, Sacramento) urged a "yes." vote.

The Dem-majority Assembly voted 52-28 yesterday -- with Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D, LB) voting "yes" -- to back the CA high speed rail project.

The Senate-approved bill includes $5.8 billion to start construction in the Central Valley (a requirement to obtain federal funding), comprised of $2.6 billion from bond funding and $3.2 billion from Washington, D.C. The measure linked those funds to almost $2 billion to upgrade regional rail systems and connect them to high-speed rail.

The measure is supported by Gov. Jerry Brown Jr., who issued a statement after the vote saying: "In 2008, California voters decided to create jobs and modernize our state’s rail transportation system with a major investment in high-speed rail and key local projects in Northern and Southern California. The Legislature took bold action today that gets Californians back to work and puts California out in front once again."

The CA High Speed Rail Authority issued the following statement (via chair Dan Richard): "Today’s vote to commence high-speed rail construction, like all major public policy decisions, is the result of hard work and collaborative effort. Credit must go to Governor Brown whose courage and steadfast leadership has improved the High-Speed Rail Authority’s plans and operations. We also express deep gratitude to Assembly Speaker John Perez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg for passing this measure through their houses. The Legislature’s action sets in motion a Statewide Rail Modernization Plan for California. Not only will California be the first state in the nation to build a high-speed rail system to connect our urban centers, we will also modernize and improve rail systems at the local and regional level. This plan will improve mobility for commuters and travelers alike, reduce emissions, and put thousands of people to work while enhancing our economic competitiveness."

Supporters say the bullet train offers an alternative to air travel and highway use, an investment in the future that would bring CA technology that travelers in other parts of the world already enjoy. The Obama administration strongly supports high speed rail, but had the state legislature failed to approve a commitment for state funding, Washington would likely have cut funding for the CA project.

Commiting billions in state dollars (the project's estimated cost has gone from approx. $45 billion to $68 billion) was opposed by groups ranging from aviation interests to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Opponents argued that the legislature was spending money that CA doesn't have and can't afford. All Republican state lawmakers (Assembly and Senate) voted "no" on the measure.

CA voters approved the project in 2008 but since then its estimated costs have increased; opponents say recent polls show voters wouldn't support it now. Following the vote, the Senate recessed until Aug. 6.

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