The looming cash crisis facing the California High Speed Rail Authority - which, I must repeat, is not the Authority's fault but instead the product of a flawed state budget process that has caught the CHSRA within its grasp - is the subject of a great Fresno Bee editorial today that calls on state lawmakers to find a solution and prevent the new national support for HSR from passing California:
The California High Speed Rail Authority is out of money, and may have to call a halt to all the planning efforts now under way. That could put the state at risk of losing out on federal funds in both the stimulus bill and the omnibus spending bill....
California is currently ahead of the rest of the states in planning its high-speed system. We're the only state whose voters have approved spending our own money on such a project, and the environmental and engineering studies required for the massive project are already well begun.
But that lead could evaporate quickly if California's efforts are stalled by money woes. Not a day passes without news of the enthusiasm that's rising in other states and regions to build high-speed systems -- the Midwest, the Northeast corridor, Texas, Florida.
In the meantime, some of the private contractors doing the engineering and environmental reviews in California have already stopped the work because they aren't getting paid. Most of the work of planning, designing and building the high-speed system will be done by private sector companies -- but they won't work for free, nor should they.
California's budget crisis is growing worse, and the US Senate's decision to tell the states to "drop dead" by cutting the state stabilization funds is a huge part of the problem. Still, $29.1 million is not an enormous amount of money and is a smart investment in enabling billions in federal money to come California's way.
State legislators and administrators must find a way to ensure the CHSRA has the money it needs to do its work. Otherwise we're going to see an emboldened NIMBY and HSR denier movement that will destroy high speed rail in the absence of the kind of information, charts, graphics, and public meetings that the CHSRA can offer.
Getting voters to approve Prop 1A was the easy part. Changing the underlying politics that frustrated passenger rail projects for over 40 years is the hard part. We have an opportunity to do that now. We cannot afford to let it pass us by.