California isn't the first state to get this far along on building a high speed rail project. Texas and Florida have been there before us, and both projects fell apart. In Texas Southwest Airlines and then-governor George W. Bush helped kill the project, which was already weak because the state hadn't offered any funding.
Florida had gotten much further along in the process, as the Lakeland Ledger reminisced yesterday:
Florida was working on establishing high-speed rail links when Gov. Jeb Bush was elected in 1998. But during his first two weeks in office, Bush killed the project. In 2000, Lakeland businessman C. C. "Doc" Dockery, also a former chairman of the Florida High-Speed Rail Commission, managed to gain 53 percent approval for a constitutional amendment that called for work to begin on a high-speed rail link by Nov. 1, 2003.
But in 2004, Bush and some supporters in the Legislature had the issue back on the ballot to repeal the law. That amendment passed with 64 percent support, although the High-Speed Rail Commission still remains in existence, but has been mostly inactive.
"Those trains would be up and running now," if Bush hadn't interfered, said Dockery last week. "It would have created a construction boom and a lot of jobs."
There is a key difference between California, Texas and Florida - we have a clearly-identified and secured state funding source. Neither Texas nor Florida had that, which made it easier for the Bush Brothers to kill high speed rail in those states.
That doesn't mean our own project is safe. We've already seen HSR deniers call for the bond sales to be delayed. You can be assured that the deniers, and some Republicans in Sacramento, will continue to resist this project by refusing to sell the bonds, refusing to spend the bond money, or throwing up other delays. And there will be those in Congress who will resist using federal money to help build our project. They didn't respect the will of the voters in Florida after 2000 - and they may not do the same here in California after 2008.
Florida's experience is a stark reminder of the need to be vigilant in protecting our victories on high speed rail. We'll continue to keep you informed about the political battles within California and in the Congress over HSR and let you know when and how to get involved to ensure that our high speed train gets built.