(Updated as information comes my way - now on Update 3)
The State Senate today finally passed AB 3034. It will now return to the Assembly, which will consider the Senate's amendments and send it on to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Despite their earlier opposition, several Senate Republicans voted for AB 3034. They include Roy Ashburn and Dave Cogdill, who have previously been less than supportive of HSR. Additionally Jeff Denham, Tom Harman, Bob Margett, and my own Senator Abel Maldonado voted for AB 3034.
What changed? The Senate amended the bill yesterday to provide more oversight, including a "peer review" committee (see the bill text for details) and mandating that a revised business plan be produced by September 1 - not October 1 as previously suggested.
Also, Monday is the new deadline for altering the Prop 1 ballot language, contrary to reports from mid-July that suggested the deadline had already passed.
The Sierra Club, which took some criticism from this blog earlier this week, did play a major role in getting AB 3034 passed. The bill would address many of their concerns and Tim Frank of Sierra Club California had this to say, in a press release put out by Sen. Leland Yee's office:
This bill will ensure that the High Speed Rail Bond on this November’s ballot contains important environmental and fiscal safeguards and accordingly will help assure voters that their money will be wisely invested in a system that can dramatically improve California’s environment while providing mobility options that improve our competitiveness and quality of life.
That's more like it. Good to see the Sierra Club keeping focus on the value of HSR. Let's hope they will endorse Prop 1.
This good news, however, is tempered by remaining obstacles. The Assembly may not be pleased with the changes the Senate made, which include Leland Yee's move to secure the "spine" from SF to LA and Anaheim. But the Assembly is under the gun to approve the changes by the Monday deadline. Time to call your Assemblymembers and let them know that they ought to back AB 3034 as-is, and send it onto Arnold for his signature.
And that part is also tricky. Arnold is throwing a temper tantrum right now, claiming that he'll not sign any new bills the Legislature sends him until a budget deal is done. Funny thing about AB 3034, though - Arnold himself was its driving force, as the bill primarily exists to satisfy many of his demands about the HSR bond. Some Republicans who praised Arnold's silly move - like Jeff Denham, who said most bills "do more harm than good anyway, voted for AB 3034 anyway.
More importantly, AB 3034 required a 2/3 vote to pass each house. 2/3 just so happens to be the amount needed to override a governor's veto. So if Arnold continues his hissy fit, AB 3034 can still become law anyway.
All in all, it's a very good result. Props to everyone who helped pass it through the Senate - they understand the need to keep our eye on the ball and get HSR built.
UPDATE Here is what I'm told about how the ballot stuff works. Apparently the Legislature can remove Prop 1 and replace it with AB 3034 - as a new Prop 1 - if they act by August 11, which is Monday. They must both remove the existing Prop 1 AND pass AB 3034 for this work, and AB 3034 would go onto the ballot as Prop 1. If they miss the deadline, then AB 3034 would go onto the ballot as a supplemental prop - Prop 12 or, god forbid, Prop 13. It's been shown that this might cost 5-10% points in support, which could be fatal. Also, having two HSR props on the ballot would be incredibly confusing and might well lead to both failing.
The lesson: This last-minute stuff is really not good policymaking. This needed to have been resolved at least two months ago. If the first scenario cannot be accomplished - removing the current Prop 1 and replacing it with AB 3034 as Prop 1, then AB 3034 should be abandoned and groups should move to support Prop 1.
UPDATE 2 Sen. Dean Florez, longtime HSR supporter, calls on Arnold to support AB 3034 in a press release:
If Assembly Bill 3034 is not signed into law by Monday at 5 p.m., voters will be forced to consider a measure which lacks information considered critical to garnering support.
“The Governor’s childlike pledge has put years of work on the high-speed rail project in danger,” Florez said, chiding, “We need to end the foot stomping and get to work. Given Schwarzenegger’s handling of the budget crisis thus far, I wouldn’t be surprised if his next press conference included a new pledge to hold his breath until he turns bright blue.”
While the Governor may be loathe to reverse himself so quickly, Florez – who is sure Schwarzenegger could not have been aware of every possible ramification when he made his latest pronouncement – encouraged him to look to his own words on the issue.
“The Governor himself told a national television audience that flip-flopping is a great thing; that it is a wonderful thing when someone has made a mistake and is able to be honest about it and change his mind,” Florez said. “Keeping a viable high-speed rail bond off the ballot at this critical juncture -- after decades of laying the groundwork for a system that will move this state forward -- would be a huge mistake. The only thing remaining to be seen is whether the Governor will recognize and acknowledge that fact before it is too late to correct.”
Sounds like the ball's in Arnold's court now.
Update 3 Missed this the first time I read through the amended AB 3034 - if Arnold signs it by Monday at 5, Prop 1 is dead and will be replaced with Prop 1A:
This bill would require the bond measure to appear first on the November 4, 2008, general election ballot and to be designated as Proposition
11A. The bill would specify the ballot label and title and summary to be used for the measure.
Apparently the revisions also have more flexibility on funding minimum operable segments, but as I read it the "spine" from SF-LA-Anaheim is still prioritized. Anyone have a better reading? Put it in the comments.