The State Senate is back in session and Roy Ashburn is continuing his campaign to deny his constituents cheap, sustainable transportation by trying to kill the HSR bonds:
Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, lost his bid Monday to delay the vote now scheduled for Nov. 4 on a bond to help start building a high- speed railroad in California.
The Assembly Transportation Committee turned down Senate Bill 298, which would have pushed the $9.95 billion bond to the 2010 ballot.
Ashburn, who represents most of Tulare County, said he's a supporter of high-speed rail but opposes a bond vote this fall because there isn't adequate information available on such issues as expected use, fares, routes and energy use for the proposed train that would travel through the San Joaquin Valley.
Despite this rejection, the Bakersfield Californian reports he's going to keep trying anyway:
An Assembly committee rejected a bill by Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, to postpone the measure until 2010. However, Ashburn said he’ll try again later this week, when a fiscal oversight bill to be attached to the bond comes before the Senate for a vote....
Ashburn said he supports high-speed rail but the project is too expensive to approve without firm commitments for the rest of the funding. He also feels a September due date for the California High-Speed Rail Authority to produce an updated business plan isn’t enough time for voters to thoroughly assess the project.
“It’s a last-minute, last-ditch effort to put something together and rush it to the ballot,” Ashburn said. “For those of us that are truly supportive of high-speed rail, let’s take it off the ballot, give it time and work on these things.”
I don't believe Ashburn on this for a minute. He is being deliberately disingenuous, and the only thing that is last-minute, last-ditch about this is Ashburn's objections.
Let's think about this for a moment. Ashburn isn't a random voter, he is a two-term State Senator. If he felt there were problems with the Authority's business plan and funding, why didn't he raise these objections sooner? Why didn't he push for an updated business plan earlier? He must know that it's simply not possible for a thorough and complete update to be done sooner than September. And had AB 3034 been approved three weeks ago, the Authority would already be working on the plan.
As he must know, private enterprise and Congress are not going to commit funds to a project that California hasn't already committed itself to building. Not only does someone have to make the first step, but that "someone" can only be the state of California. It would have helped if our Congressional delegation, especially our two Senators, had been more proactive about securing at least a small amount of federal funding - perhaps $45 million for an HSR study, the same amount LA-Vegas maglev got - to show that Congress plans to support this. And private enterprise absolutely will not commit until the public sector has done so, as they explained to the Authority in June.
Ashburn's 11th hour objections are irresponsible. As a public servant he ought to have raised these concerns earlier in the year, instead of holding up the very bill that would address his concerns.
But more significantly, Ashburn is using this fear, uncertainty, and doubt strategy to try and kill the project outright. If he merely wanted an improved bond measure, he would have spoken up sooner. Instead he's using these last-minute objections to block AB 3034 - he already delayed past the deadline to alter Prop 1 - in hopes that either the bond will be pulled or the public will turn against a plan he's labeled as inadequate.
Even a delay is not a financially sound move, as Sen. Dean Florez explained to the Bakersfield Californian:
“Every year we put off moving forward with this ... we not only watch the overall cost of the project rise,” he said, “but we run the risk of losing investors who are unsure of our commitment to making high-speed rail a reality.”
We've already delayed this vote twice. It's time we let the voters of California have their say. Especially those in Bakersfield, in Ashburn's district, who desperately need a non-oil based affordable method to travel around their own state.