Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Final AB 3034 Deadline

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

According to the Secretary of State's office, Sunday August 24 is the real, true, absolute drop-deadline to put AB 3034 on the ballot as Prop 1A. Apparently county election officials are under pressure to move ahead with ballot printing and can't delay much further. It is possible, depending on exactly what the Legislature does over the next few days and how they do it, that we could see two high speed rail propositions - 1 and 1A.

That needs to be avoided. At this point I don't much care whether AB 3034 becomes law or not - it doesn't make any vital changes to the project; the original Prop 1 is a good plan; and the core arguments for HSR aren't affected by the fate of AB 3034. But it would be bad for HSR if there are two measures on the fall ballot - confused voters are No voters.

Of course this is probably all moot, since it's highly unlikely that there will be a state budget agreement by Sunday - and without a budget, Arnold won't sign any bills. The budget impasse is as deep as ever - for more read my overview from Calitics this morning. Republicans have backed themselves into a corner with their "no taxes" pledge, and would risk their own seats at the next primary by breaking it. A government shutdown is a possibility, although some ways off.

Unless something unexpected happens, AB 3034 looks to be dead. And that leads me to wonder whether the push to change Prop 1 had any use, or whether it was a waste of time and effort that should have instead gone to HSR advocacy. This blog started focusing on AB 3034 rather late in the game, even though it was the subject of the first post here, and even when we did discuss it, my view was mostly skeptical and wary. Only when Leland Yee moved to secure the "spine" back in June were my own concerns eased, and from that point on it was mostly a drawn-out legislative battle exhibiting some of the reasons why our state legislature is becoming a failed institution.

AB 3034 wasn't a total waste though - its ups and downs, especially in the last two weeks, did draw some attention from the traditional media to the high speed rail project, mostly favorable coverage. That always has value. As we move into the general election campaign in earnest, we can certainly use as much coverage as we can get. If there's a lesson here it's that California legislators need to pay more attention to high speed rail, take it more seriously, and show some leadership on it. And perhaps the AB 3034 debate helped accomplish that as well.

Looking back over this post it reads like an obituary. But I don't think rumors of its demise are exaggerated, although we won't know for certain until Sunday. Getting the high speed rail bonds are what matter now, no matter what the proposition's number on the fall ballot.

20 comments:

Eric said...

I don't see why it wouldn't be possible to approve Prop 1 the way it is and just implement AB 3034 and the changes it induces on the HSR project after the vote (like more oversight). Not a big deal. The important thing is to get Prop 1 passed, then deal with other technicalities later down the road.

Like you said Robert, AB 3034 opened up more eyes on the project and is getting more people involved (in a good way).

Spokker said...

Haha so close yet so far.

Anonymous said...

@robert

How can your conclusions be more wrong about what happens if AB-3034 dies as now expected.

1. The T&H committee in the senate issued the 35 page scathing report demanding 15 points of change. Some of these were fixed in AB-3034 but not all. Presumably many Democrats as well as Republicans are going to oppose the original Prop 1 since these serious problems in that version exist.

2. Groups like the Sierra club, are on record as opposing the original Prop 1; it will still allow a station in Los Banos. Don't come back with the "a Los Banos Station can't be built because it is not covered in the EIR. The EIR can be supplemented ans so long as the possibility of using funds exists for that station it can be built.

3. The Governor is on record as opposing the project unless the Public Private partnerships were added to the funding. That's not in the original Prop 1. He should also come out against the project.

So you can do all the writing you want, without AB-3034, the chances of getting approval by the voters is going to be very much harder without AB-3034.

@eric

You don't understand. Once Prop 1 is approved the legal language is what will administer the project. CHSRA will have the authority do do what they want so long as they conform to the language of Prop 1. Implementing AB-3034 after Prop 1 has been passed would take another ballot vote to amend. Yes it is a big deal.

Rafael said...

There's nothing preventing CHSRA from declaring now that it will honor AB3034 as soon as the governor signs it - whenever that may be. After all, both the Assembly and the Senate have already passed it with 2/3 majorities and, it's being held up only because of an unrelated matter.

This would reassure California politicians and voters alike that all the work that has gone into improving the bond measure has not been in vain. It would also signal that CHSRA isn't about to let the insufferable posturing over the budget get in the way of getting this vital piece of infrastructure actually built.

Anonymous said...

@rafael

The only way anyone should trust the CHSRA to do anything is by laying down the rules. Passage of AB-3034 by the Governor means nothing -- it has to be also passed by the voters.

SB-53 passage is the way to get accountability. That would take over the CHSRA and put the project where it belongs; under supervision of the legislature. SB-53 should be supported.

Just to be clear. I don't trust the leadership of the CHSRA. Why should anyone? They propose a system that is dedicated to political pressures from San Jose and San Francisco especially. They choose a route vastly inferior by going Pacheco. The fudge travel times as you have pointed out by adding delays at San Jose to turn a train around. They do an EIR using a corridor owned by the UPRR without negotiating its use and find out later it isn't available.

How much else can they do wrong? Anyone know what kind of salaires these guys are drawing?

Rob Dawg said...

There's nothing preventing CHSRA from declaring now that it will honor AB3034 as soon as the governor signs it - whenever that may be.

Yeah right. And when public/private partnetrships fail to develop then CAHSR will suspend operations until secured? This November the voters will push a boulder over a cliff. Prop 1, Prop 1A or defeat; doesn't matter. Whatever happens will proceed unstoppable for decades.

On a related matter; if the 1% statewide sales tax increase goes through you can expect a massive voter backlash against any ballot spending proposals.

Rafael said...

@ anon, rob dawg -

don't blame CHSRA for the governor's pig-headedness over the budget. In any civilized country, the previous year's budget would simply be extended on a pro-rated basis until there is agreement on a new one. This ensures that salaries and other commitments can be paid. This is almost never neccessary because civilized countries have parliaments that can and do pass their annual budgets with simple majorities.

It is unconsionable that various California politicians see fit to grandstand while state employees and voters alike are denied public services and an opportunity to decide on their future infrastructure.

Brandon M. Farley said...

My opinion is that the standard voter will not know the difference one way or the other whether AB 3034 were inacted or not.

It will not influence voter polls at all!

With that said, yes, the CHSRA can still honor the intent of AB 3034 so much as there is flexibility to do so.

One area they do not concerns designation of the 1st phase; LA to SF. I am unsure any bond money can go toward other segments. On the other hand, a judicial decision could be sought about voter intent and not the letter of the proposition.

Concerning usage of 3rd party and Federal funding... a non-issue. ALL STAKEHOLDERS want to maximize the use of non-bond funding for the project.

About Los Banos... wouldn't it be dumb of the CHSRA to go against something the legislature wants; which is no station in Los Banos?

At the end of the day, the California legislature will have authority to appropriate funds. If their objectives are not satisfied they can tell the CHSRA to work harder and come back to them later.

AB 3034, although I would like to have seen it passed... b/c it satisfies some stakholders, does not compromise the project, actually relieves some requirements, and provides some oversight (not sure if really needed)... at the end of the day it will have no marginal affect on voter outcome.

And... even if we had AB 3034 passed and inacted.. say a year ago at this time.... I bet we'd still have this very same conversation b/c some other stakeholder group is putting their foot down on something and trying to leverage additional change.

People, we got get off the pot and move and stop acting like little scrappy muts with their jaw around the play toy.

Spokker said...

Wait, people are saying they don't trust the CHSRA, but they trust the California state legislature to get something done?

Huh?

Robert Cruickshank said...

That was exactly what I was going to write too, spokker. Anyone who thinks the Legislature is going to provide better project management than the CHSRA is out of their mind.

The Legislature is hopelessly gridlocked thanks to the 2/3 rule and an extremist Republican caucus. The surest way to drive HSR costs through the roof and delay construction is to give the Legislature significant power over the project.

Rob Dawg said...

Robert,
I would think you'd be applauding the republican stand on containing costs. You cannot be intellectually honest and hold those two views simultaneously. Without the Republicans standing firm for fiscal responsibility taxes would already be so high as to negatively affect the voting public's appetite for more debt. There's a lot of reasons to hate the Republicans in the Legislature but there's no way you'd be happy without them performing their losing minority holding action against runaway spending.

IMO the business practice provisions of AB3034 will be opposition talking points while the lack of business plan in Prop 1 will be fodder for the opposite side of the same issue. Not saying they're right only that they will.

Either way, if any form of HSR bond passes there are going to be any number of suits challenging the CHSRAs ability to let contracts without having the rest of the funding in place or at least identified.

Tony D. said...

Eric 10:59,
Completely agree with you that AB 3034-like changes can be made after passage of Prop.1...not a big deal at all since most of it is already on the CHSR website.

Anon 8:10,
"They propose a system that is dedicated to the political pressures from San Jose and San Francisco especially." So instead, let's build a system that is dedicated to the political pressures from small "Cow Towns" like Sac, Modesto and Tracy? Just have a little patience, and your town will get HSR and HS overlay!

B.M. Farley 12:04,
Completely agree with you the AB3034 means nothing to the average voter. During a work related training today, I mentioned to the class to vote for Prop.1. All I heard was "Yes! I want that! We need the bullet train for California! We're so far behind Europe and Asia when it comes to passenger rail." Again, 58-62% approval with the ORIGINAL LANGUAGE! GO PROP.1!!

Dawg 1:03,
Filing a lawsuit over a voter-approved proposition, thus trying to kill the will of the people through the courts? Now that's the California spirit!!

Spokker said...

All this talk about political interests and money has me thinking. You know, Quentin Kopp is 80 years old. There's a good chance he won't even live to see the high speed rail line begin operations. It's difficult to tell what motivations lie in the hearts of man, but if Kopp has aspirations of getting rich off this thing, he doesn't have much time to enjoy it.

God, people act like money is the root of all evil. You go, "WHO IS GETTING RICH OF THIS PROJECT RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE" like it's somehow wrong that people responsible for the first high speed rail line in North America are compensated for their work, and compensated well.

Brandon M. Farley said...

^^^ Right you are! Some people are just cycnical by nature. Others could be using it as a strategy to up-end a project.

無名 - wu ming said...

those cow town in the central valley are as large as the bay area. sac alone is as big as san jose.

that being said, a statewide HSR serves all of california's population centers, and as such is a good plan.

after all, even if i had to take the amtrak san joaquins train from sac to merced, and then transfer to the HSR station there for the rest of thr trip, the sac-LA trip would still take me just 3 hours. once that spine is in place, everything linking to it becomes that much faster and more valuable as a transportation mode.

mostly, i just want the damn thing built.

Cal said...

The problem with this not being signed is the news media will play it up as the bond is in trouble. I google newsupdates all the time on this andthey always have something
like "High Speed Rail in Trouble" or something along those lines.This
is what needs to be cleared up

Spokker said...

"High speed rail DERAILED"

"High speed rail SIDETRACKED"

"High speed rail SITTING IN A SIDING WAITING FOR A FREIGHT TO PASS"

I love the headlines. Train puns aplenty.

Rob Dawg said...

Dawg 1:03,
Filing a lawsuit over a voter-approved proposition, thus trying to kill the will of the people through the courts? Now that's the California spirit!!


Lots of Props get halted/modified in the courts. Besides, the opponents are going to sue to to make the CHSRA adhere to the terms of whatever Prop passes/fails.

My guess is once it becomes clear that UPRRs demands are going to break the budget that's when the long knives come out.

Anonymous said...

@ rob dawg

In my opinion UPRR has absolutely no intention of selling off any of their corridor. The rail freight business is fabulous these days, due to high cost of diesel and their 10 : 1 advantage over trucks in fuel economy moving freight.

Rail freight is being limited by not enough tracks to move freight efficiently. They want their corridor and want to add more freight tracks.

In any case ROW is not going to be the really big budget breaker. Its going to be inflation and the deceit that CHSRA has used by telling the voters that the project can be built for 42 -45 billions, when they know full well it at least 50 to 100% over that projection.

The Producer Price Index (PPI) is up 9.8% over the last 12 months. Instead of CHSRA projections of 5% per year inflation costs, its going to be 10% / year for the next few years. The project is out of control.

What's gong to happen even if Prop 1 passes and when they have to admit the costs are closer to $100 billion and not 45 billion?

Another Bay Bridge fiasco, only this time there is no way the State or Feds are going to be able to bail out the project since the amounts are so huge.

無名 - wu ming said...

no way the feds can help out? um, have you noticed the hundreds of billions of dollars the feds toss at iraq, or use to bail out banks without a second thought?

the feds have the money, and as long as an amtrak-hater like mccain isn't prez, california will see some of that federal matching money.