See update below
The Fresno Bee is reporting that although AB 3034 passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee today, it has been delayed on the Senate floor by Don Perata, who was concerned that it might not attract the two Republican votes it needs to pass (since it needs a 2/3 vote). The Fresno Bee's story currently explains:
Republicans, Democrats and Gov. Schwarzenegger agree that the current ballot measure lacks oversight language. But the two parties have not agreed on how exactly to fix the measure, which lawmakers originally crafted in 2002.
It's entirely possible that this stems from Roy Ashburn's concerns about "oversight" though exactly what is at issue isn't clear from this report, though there may be more details in the morning. Ashburn has been upset about the lack of a new business plan, but AB 3034 would provide for just that - an updated business plan. I don't know exactly what kind of oversight he and the Republicans want, but I'm not averse in the abstract to strong oversight rules for this or for any other project. The devil is as always in the details.
I have also heard that Abel Maldonado, my own State Senator and a moderate Republican whose vote is crucial if AB 3034 is to meet the 2/3 requirement, has voiced concerns that there isn't much for his district in this bill. That's nonsense. He has probably forgotten that his Central Coast district includes southern Santa Clara County, which will benefit immensely from high speed rail as San José and Gilroy (just outside his district but close to Morgan Hill and San Martin which ARE in the 15th) will both have stations. Additionally, residents in the Monterey and Santa Cruz County portions of his district will have much faster travel options for getting to the rest of the state, particularly Southern California, and vice-versa - always an important consideration for our tourism-dependent economies. The $1 billion for non-HSR projects will also benefit the 15th district, helping fund the Coast Daylight service from SF to LA via Salinas and San Luis Obispo, potentially helping improve service on the Pacific Surfliners, and helping Santa Cruz and Monterey with our own local rail projects.
We can also look to other Senate Republicans who would be acting against their constituents' interests in blocking AB 3034. We already explained how Ashburn would be letting down his Bakersfield constituents; the same would be true of Jeff Denham - residents in Merced in particular would see dramatic economic benefits from the HSR station that will be located in their community, and the bill would get Modesto one step closer to a station of their own. Dave Cogdill, Senate Minority Leader, also has constituents who would see major benefits, particularly in Fresno. The same holds true for Dick Ackerman, from Fullerton, and Tom Harman who represents Irvine. Surely they wish to bring economic opportunity, affordable transportation, and development opportunities to their residents.
The Senate will be in recess until August 4, which is the soonest that AB 3034 could come up for a vote. Perhaps that's convenient since I'll be out of town from this Thursday until that date. But time is running out for Proposition 1 to be amended, so hopefully legislators can see the light and the importance of ensuring that this bill passes so that voters have a solid proposal before them this November, a plan to build the nation's leading rail infrastructure and catch up with the rest of the world before it's too late.
Update: Tuesday 7:30 AM: More details have emerged. The Riverside Press-Enterprise reports that TODAY is the printing deadline for the November ballot and that there might be some sort of "supplemental ballot" with a revised Prop 1 while the original Prop 1 would remain on the ballot. Sorry folks, that's not remotely workable.
The article goes on to detail some of the Republican objections:
Republicans said the bond should be postponed again. Not only does the state face an estimated $15.2 billion shortfall, they said, but there still are questions about the high-speed program's business plan.
State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, said the bond measure should be delayed because "it's not fully cooked yet."
State Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, also opposes the bond. The proposed amendments were too little, too late, he said.
These folks have never been strong supporters of the HSR bond. Hollingsworth has been talking down HSR since at least 2007. Dutton is trying to have it both ways, as was Roy Ashburn - they claim the measure needs revisions, but they then vote against the revisions. It's absurd. If they were truly supportive of the project they'd have backed AB 3034 and wouldn't be delaying it like this. Obviously their goal is to kill the bond without having overtly done so.
The Sacramento Bee has more details on the "oversight" concern - Ashburn wants to shut down the Authority and replace it with a Department of Rail. Perhaps it's a good idea, perhaps it's not. But it's an 11th-hour objection that should have been raised earlier. Cathleen Galgiani noted that AB 3034 would have strengthened oversight of the Authority and limited their ability to spend money on themselves. Further changes could certainly be made over time.
It seems to me that Republicans are using niggling objections as an excuse to kill the bill and, therefore, to try and kill the project outright. Republican politicians believe that things like oil drilling are preferable to providing the sort of sustainable transportation that California needs to remain competitive in the 21st century. We can win the Prop 1 vote without AB 3034 - but AB 3034 would have made it easier.
It is a shame that Sacramento Republicans preferred to kill the bill and try and kill the entire project rather than have worked with the bill's sponsors and supporters from an earlier date to seek changes everybody can live with.